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The next step toward the brave new world of satellite and 5G wireless working together


There is broad bipartisan agreement that 5G, the fifth-generation cellular network technology standard, is crucial for America’s economic competitiveness. A wide range of technologies will harness 5G’s vast capabilities, including wireline, cable, fiber, satellite, and mobile wireless. In practical terms, 5G will act as an overlay technology to help other networks extend their reach. In the same way that Wi-Fi turns a home wireline connection into a wireless network, 5G will help landline providers reach homes.

Satellite technologies also have a role to play in the official 5G standard. Among their many uses, satellite technologies will offer 5G service in places that terrestrial networks can’t reach (or have difficulty reaching), such as aircraft, maritime vessels, and high-speed trains; shipping, trucking, and container tracking; unmanned systems (aerial vehicles, marine vehicles, or self-driving cars); and various machine-to-machine and Internet of Things applications. The only sad part of this story is that we had to wait an extra decade to realize it. Despite the agreement 10 years ago about the need for America to invest in next generation infrastructure, progress has been slow. Under the leadership of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Chairman Ajit Pai, that has changed — and fast.

Consider the case of Ligado Networks, which invested billions to launch a wireless network but got caught up in a regulatory rigmarole, delaying the deployment of valuable innovation and costing the economy billions of dollars in lost revenue. Had they received regulatory approval previously, their network would have been a fourth national carrier at the time AT&T attempted (unsuccessfully) to acquire T-Mobile, likely changing regulators’ market analysis.

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