White House

Steve Forbes: Why THIS will be America's next great infrastructure project

FILE --

FILE --  (Reuters)

President Donald Trump has made it clear that he will make good on his promise to rebuild the country -- both figuratively and literally.

America’s economic future has always depended on strategic infrastructure investments. In 1956, it was the formation of the U.S. Interstate Highway System. Today, it’s a modern broadband communications networks that will power 5G or fifth-generation wireless. President Trump’s appointment of Ajit Pai as Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission signals that this administration wants to move forward on this 5G revolution ASAP.

Connecting the country via a network of high-speed roads was a major catalyst for the post-war economic growth that transformed the U.S. economy and spread previously unimagined prosperity from coast to coast. The economic gains came from the huge advances in physical connectivity. The old “interstate” highway, the Lincoln Highway, was so poorly marked that when Dwight Eisenhower accompanied an Army convoy across the country in 1919 a scout had to drive ahead to mark the route. The trip took 62 days. Today, a cross-country drive takes about five days.

In part because of the success of the Interstate Highway System (along with that little contraption the Wright Brothers built in 1903 and advancements in communications technology), Americans understand the importance of rapid, unimpeded connectivity. Upgrading our communications networks from 4G to 5G will provide connections so fast (response times of a millisecond or less) and reliability so dependable that the productivity gains and new technologies will be the stuff of science fiction. At up to 100 times faster than current 4G speeds, 5G, however, will enable a technological revolution we have only begun to imagine.

Almost 70 percent of Americans own a smartphone and about 90 percent use the Internet. We have become a digitally connected country, but despite the prevalence of 4G broadband, the economic potential of 5G will amaze even the most bullish analysts. 5G networks will connect billions of new Internet of Things devices and make available for common usage advanced technologies such as smart cities, self-driving cars, surgical and military robots, precision delivery drones, smart buildings and labor-saving devices no one has dreamed up yet.

With a 5G network, machines will be more responsive to human needs than ever before. Yes, you will be able to download a movie in one second. You also will be able to communicate instantaneously with your house and all of your appliances from the office or your hotel room.

Every industry could experience leaps in productivity. Farmers will be able to control everything from irrigation systems to tractors remotely and in real time. Sensor-equipped public infrastructure such as subway and water systems will be able to respond to public demands as they change throughout the month, week, or day.

An analysis by Accenture released in January also confirms the extraordinary economic benefits of 5G and notes, “This next generation of wireless technology is expected to create 3 million new jobs and boost annual GDP by $500 billion.” The report cites a massive increase in industry investments— $275 billion specifically—as the catalyst behind these numbers.

Additionally, return on investment of money spent developing the Internet of Things alone (connectivity among machines) is estimated to reach $13 trillion by 2025, ($13 trillion from 2015 to 2025) according to a September Business Insider analysis.

Now for the best part. These stunning gains will be had at a fraction of the public cost of previous infrastructure investments. The beauty of the coming 5G revolution is that unlike earlier infrastructure projects like the Interstate Highway System, this one will cost taxpayers next to nothing. The investments are being undertaken by the private sector to densify or enhance current broadband networks to make them 5G ready.

Government officials at the federal and local levels should establish rules that encourage deployments and capital investment.

The bulk of the effort would fall on state and local governments, which must move decisively to modernize antiquated regulations to remove potential impediments (such as building and zoning codes that were written for already outdated technologies). 

Government officials will either help foster – or slow – the 5G revolution.  Let’s hope they understand the transformative impact that technology will have on their constituents and throughout their communities.

A nationwide 5G network is the infrastructure we need now if we want to unleash a modern, connected, and growing economy. 5G will be a critical key to making America Great Again.

Steve Forbes is Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of Forbes Media. His latest book, "Reviving America: How Repealing Obamacare, Replacing the Tax Code, and Reforming the Fed will Restore Hope and Prosperity" (McGraw-Hill Education, December 10, 2015).

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