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The Transformational Impact of 5G

Proceedings of a Workshop—in Brief

; Jennifer Saunders, Rapporteur.

Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); .
ISBN-10: 0-309-49876-7

October 2019

The fifth generation of wireless networks and technologies presents significant opportunity to transform connectivity. Improvements in bandwidth, latency, coverage, reliability, and security can enable an array of enhanced and new applications. On June 11-12, 2019, the Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable (GUIRR) convened experts to speak about the state of research, development, and deployment of 5G technologies; the challenges of securing 5G networked devices and infrastructure; and the global landscape of competition on 5G deployment. Priorities for cross sector collaboration and coordination between government, universities, and industry to advance the nation's leadership in wireless communication were also discussed.

The meeting opened with a keynote address delivered by Ellen Purdy, director of initiatives and analysis in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. Purdy began by describing the impact of 5G on society. 5G is differentiated from other generational transitions in wireless technology because of its transformational opportunity towards ubiquitous connectivity, which will be as significant as when electricity was brought into homes and to manufacturing floors. However, she raised concerns about the nation's readiness for such a transition. According to Purdy, the Department of Defense (DOD) did not begin tracking 5G until the fall of 2018 and has struggled to understand the ramifications of the technology.

“As far as DOD is concerned, it is not a race to 5G, as there is no finish line. This technology will fuse the commercial and government sectors, blurring boundaries, which will require careful policy and regulatory considerations around security and other issues. Standards are also critical, and we cannot collaborate on standards without being forthcoming,” stated Purdy.

5G-enabled technologies and networks are characterized by their delivery of ultra-high bandwidth, ultra-low latency, and ultra-high reliability of service, to varying degrees, depending on the use case. Purdy said these features will enable countless dual-use technologies with both commercial and military applications, and added that DOD wants to collaborate and invest in the development of 5G for this reason. A key interest for the agency is 5G's virtual reality capabilities. As the agency is limited by space, time, and budget, 5G capabilities will exponentially increase how effectively it can train its personnel, creating a revolution of training opportunities. Other relevant applications for 5G-enabled technologies for DOD mentioned by Purdy included smart ships and ports, health monitoring, and smart manufacturing.

Purdy suggested that if the United States wants to have a flourishing economy—with U.S. companies having a large presence in the 5G ecosystem—it needs to ensure that the products it builds are secure. “We will need to build a workforce for 5G; strengthen our international presence; and ensure a focus on applications, standards, policies, regulations, and statutes to guide the development of 5G and beyond,” Purdy noted. She added that a great strength of the U.S. is its competitiveness, which should be harnessed in the telecommunications and security spaces moving forward. “The military that masters the connectivity of everything will be the military that dominates for decades.”

On the second day of the meeting Al Grasso, past president and CEO of MITRE Corporation and GUIRR Industry Co-Chair, welcomed participants and new GUIRR members. He reiterated the purpose of the workshop, noting its particular timeliness given media coverage about global competition on the development of 5G technology. “The public perception of 5G is that it will provide more bandwidth; however, 5G capabilities are far more impressive than just expanded bandwidth,” stated Grasso.

Ultra-reliable low latency capability and other features have the potential to drive industrial innovation and enhancements in microelectronics. This will result in a plethora of capabilities to drive low power capabilities and the massive internet of things (IoT). 5G opens a new space and incredible potential in a number of areas. Grasso warned that with these innovations come a number of challenges, including security and safety concerns. If the nation does not have standards in place to drive 5G development and use, it will not be able to gain the full benefits of the technology. Similarly, the country's involvement in the standards community and effective management of spectrum will determine first mover advantage. “A cross disciplinary approach is needed to keep that advantage,” Grasso said.


Nada Golmie, chief of the wireless networks division in the communication technology laboratory at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), opened her presentation on the role of standards and measurements in the evolution of communication systems. She indicated that 5G will substantially improve communications capabilities through innovations in connectivity, adaptability, and capacity because the use cases and applications of 5G technologies are wide-reaching and transformational in areas including—but not limited to—agriculture, transportation, and energy.

NIST is highly involved in 5G-related efforts and has identified a number of measurement challenges related to 5G technologies. Because these networks will rely on high density deployments of devices, one challenge area is interference of wireless signals. 5G will utilize higher frequency spectrum bands, which have different—and less studied—propagation properties from the familiar lower frequency bands on which current networks operate. New antenna systems will need to be built and calibrated to accommodate 5G networks, and there is still work to be done to use telemetry and measurements for autonomous control of communications systems.

NIST aims to align these challenges against use case verticals in its programs to improve communications capabilities, which address spectrum utilization and sharing, public safety communications, and advances in communications metrology (Figure 1). The agency is also involved in millimeter wave measurement and modeling, as well as providing state-of-the-art radio frequency (RF) metrology to enable the development and commercialization of a broad range of RF electronics and wireless communication technologies. Golmie noted that NIST also has a program focused on securing 5G networks end-to-end, which remains a challenge.

FIGURE 1. What is 5G?


What is 5G? Source: Nada Golmie, National Institute of Standards and Technology, presentation to the Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable on June 12, 2019.

Efforts to develop 5G standards to guide development of the technology are ongoing and in various stages. These standards are coordinated by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU); the Third Generation Project Partnership (3GPP); the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Project 802 (IEEE 802); the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF); and the European Telecommunication Standards Institute (ETSI). NIST also convenes partnerships across government, industry, and academia, such as the 5G mmWave Channel Model Alliance and the NIST Public Safety Innovation Accelerator Program. “The story about 5G cannot be told without talking about collaborations and participation in standards development—participation across government and with industry and academia,” Golmie said.


The next session discussed use cases for 5G, as well as barriers and opportunities for its deployment, with representatives from two internet service providers. Steve LeFrancois, chief technology officer for Verizon's public sector division, stated that 5G is a platform for innovation, and as such it is critical for industry to interface with the federal government, state governments, and local organizations as they develop this technology. LeFrancois laid out the capabilities of 5G as defined by 3GPP: networks will be able to handle 10 terabytes of "traffic," and at any point there will be 10 million devices within a square kilometer. 5G will use about 10 percent of current power levels with the use of millimeter waves. Industry expects to get below 5 milliseconds of latency. LeFrancois mentioned two key challenges to deploying 5G—first, preserving safety standards as a priority; and second, maintaining consistent service across geographies.

Chris Smith, vice president of shared services at AT&T Business, described the transformative impact of 5G technology as the ability to connect and communicate without wires, with the human operator at the center. Smith agreed with LeFrancois about the aforementioned challenges and added that 5G will exponentially increase the amount of information and access to data, significantly changing both the nation's economy and security.

After opening remarks from the panelists, the session turned to questions from audience participants. One workshop participant asked the panelists about 5G's impact on training for people working in public safety or defense. LeFrancois responded that 5G will enable new possibilities such as augmented reality training, which can deliver real-time training within military, first responder, and government environments with incredible accuracy and fidelity. Smith added that the ability to develop augmented reality technology—for example, goggles that provide situational awareness—will be an impactful and cost-effective way to train military and public safety professionals. These technologies will be immersive within a real world context.

Workshop participants inquired about how 5G will affect fixed wireless, particularly in rural areas. Smith responded that the wireless industry is currently integrating fixed wireless in a local loop for 4G, and that 5G initial roll-outs will be focused in parts of larger cities and will come to rural areas as 3G and LTE are updated over time. LeFrancois added that a significant challenge is obtaining suitable real estate in rural regions, and deployment is dependent on, and often driven by, the business needs of the area.

A workshop participant asked about public perceptions of 5G, and whether there are coordinated efforts to address the argument that 5G may have a negative impact on public health. The panelists agreed that negative public perception of 5G could lead to limitations in its deployment and use, but that this argument does not have a scientific basis. Smith also commented that there is a need to work more proactively to communicate the safety of this technology to the public.

Another participant asked about conversations currently underway between the wireless industry, academia, state and local policy makers, and efforts to develop broader partnerships for the deployment of 5G networks. Smith responded that these conversations are currently happening and industry is actively engaged. At the community level, 5G becomes more appealing when discussed as part of an economic development conversation. LeFrancois added that he has observed a real push for cooperation across various sectors, and that new and innovative partnerships will be fundamental to driving adoption of 5G networks.


Tom Bradicich, vice president and general manager for servers and IoT systems at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, began his presentation on edge computing by describing what is meant by the “edge.” According to Bradicich, the edge is a place where people, equipment, machines, and devices—“things”—reside. The edge is separate from both data centers and the cloud; instead data is collected, processed, and stored closer to the location where it is used. At the edge, there is perpetual connectivity, pervasive computing, and precision control. Bradicich explained, “A military battlefield is an edge; a manufacturing floor is an edge; an agricultural field is an edge; a wind farm is an edge; an oil rig is an edge.” These are places close to the data sources where computing can happen, so that the “things” in those spaces—equipment, machines, and devices—can be more immediately controlled remotely.

Reasons to compute at the edge, stated Bradicich, include lower response times, lower bandwidth utilization, and lower connectivity costs. Computing at the edge allows for improved data security, less storage duplication, and improved reliability; it also enables geo-fencing—the use of virtual boundaries based on geophysical space—to facilitate compliance with company data policies and international data governance laws.

Bradicich noted that 5G and edge computing are synergistic, in that the demand for edge computing can be dependent on data transfers and connectivity to central facilities, and therefore is enabled by the deployment of 5G networks and technologies. 5G can be important to edge computing because it supports enhanced connectivity, enhances computing power, and allows for better performance of devices at lower energies. These improvements, according to Bradicich, may enable the deployment of massive networks of IoT systems, which can use the edge to connect, compute, and control data with more efficiency and security.


The next panel presented perspectives on several of the remaining research challenges of 5G, including the research underway to support future generations of wireless technology. Ted Rappaport, founding director, NYU WIRELESS, described the transformations of 5G technology, noting that prior to 5G, cell phone systems operated at 1-2 gigahertz (GHz). 5G technology also uses 1-2 GHz, mid-band spectrum (2-4 GHz), and millimeter wave (24, 28, 37, 39 GHz) bands, where the millimeter wave channel bandwidths are 10 to 20 times that of 4G technology. Latency associated with 5G networks is less than 10 milliseconds (imperceptible to the human brain), and it will have up to 10 gigabit per second transmissions to a cell phone.

Rappaport explained that antenna technology is critical in 5G. Standards in 5G demand more complex antenna designs for increased bandwidth in higher frequencies; these antennas, in devices and base stations, will be directional and active, receiving signals with significantly more directionality than today's unidirectional antennas. Rappaport suggested that advancements in directional antennas will enable 6G technology in around 10 to 15 years. The communication capabilities of 6G devices and networks will support incredible networks of sensors on future devices that can be used in air quality detection, personal health monitoring, gesture detection, and touchless smartphones, among other applications. 6G technologies will drive innovation in autonomous vehicles, drone delivery, holographic imaging, and spatial cognition. According to Rappaport, the need for fiber and cable bundles over short distances will be eliminated because wireless connectivity between machines will be so fast and reliable.

Rappaport also addressed what he called the “myth” of attenuation problems in millimeter wave frequencies. Pervasive in popular media today is the message that large coverage distances are more problematic in millimeter wave bands because there is a higher rate of loss of radio signal at higher frequencies over a given distance. That myth comes from old thinking that only omnidirectional antennas are used. Rappaport's work has shown that only marginal signal loss in higher frequencies occurs when directional antennas are used, since much of the “omnidirectional” path loss can be recovered with the increased antenna gain (e.g., spatial focus) of directional antennas at millimeter wave frequencies. Rappaport stressed that the need for small cells, which shrink the coverage radius of future cells, is based on the fundamental “noise power versus bandwidth” trade-off, and that the wider bandwidths of future cellular transmissions require closer coverage distances for a given transmitted power level. He said radio signals have much more difficulty penetrating buildings or dense foliage at millimeter wave frequencies as compared to today's 1-2 GHz cellular transmissions, making outdoor-to-indoor coverage more difficult with the move to 5G millimeter wave frequencies. The global industry is learning about these problems, and will be installing lower cost, lower height small cell base stations that will provide coverage for vastly greater bandwidths and data rates in 5G.

Rappaport's final remarks focused on the impact of U.S. spectrum policy on innovation in the industry. "The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has gotten out in front by approving Spectrum Horizons experimental radio licenses with a frequency between 95 GHz to 3 terahertz in March of 2019. Terahertz communications and sensing technologies will emerge with a variety of use cases, ranging from robotics, see-in-the-dark imaging, and position location to centimeter level accuracy," Rappaport said. He acknowledged that new devices, tools, and models will be needed to support this technology.

Carl Kutsche, chief technologist for critical infrastructure security resilience at Idaho National Laboratory (INL), described the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) role and interest in the development of 5G, noting that the agency has invested more than $7 billion and is one of the largest users of wireless communications services, with more than 7,500 radio frequency assignments supporting critical mission, programmatic, and operational requirements. “The loss of DOE Radio Frequency communications services would undermine the support of many critical DOE mission functions,” stated Kutsche. DOE plays a significant role in operating the nation's energy grid, which relies on steadfast communication networks that can operate within best and worst-case scenarios, including natural disasters.

With new key capabilities of 5G—including beam based air interface for sub-6 GHz and millimeter wave frequencies—and the 5G-enabled IoT come new challenges. These include improving wireless security or interference resolution derived from the transition to beam-based directional transmission; handling an increase in illegal and disruptive use of spectrum sharing; securing operations of increasing numbers of connected unmanned aircraft systems, incident command systems, vehicles, and handsets; and securing the use of edge connectivity to enable 5G applications.

To address some of the resilience and security challenges of 5G, several activities are currently underway or proposed (Figure 2). Public-private partnerships can provide focus on the most necessary capability and policy gaps facing 5G deployment, and can synergize efforts at all phases from basic research to commercial adoption. Kutsche mentioned there is a need for the development of 5G evaluation platforms that can identify and characterize wireless security issues that will validate effects and lead to the creation of effective solutions. Efforts are also underway to address critical limitations such as international challenges to system security and data protection. Kutsche stated that INL's Wireless Security Institute has numerous capabilities and facilities that can support this research.

FIGURE 2. Securing Resilient Wireless Communications Networks.


Securing Resilient Wireless Communications Networks. Source: Carl Kutsche, Idaho National Laboratory, presentation to the Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable on June 12, 2019.

Thyaga Nandagopal, deputy division director for computer and information science and engineering at the National Science Foundation (NSF), discussed research and testing on 5G technologies and beyond at the agency. He said that despite the potential of 5G, technology policy issues can take much longer to work through than anticipated. NSF has been investing in basic research on 5G for nearly a decade, though there are also a number of issues that have not been resolved in the development of both 4G or 5G, including the efficient sharing of spectrum and infrastructure, and a lack of interoperability and seamless cross-technology mobility—including between WiFi and cellular. Nandagopal said that researchers and practitioners will need to address these open problems as deployments move forward.

To move to 6G, Nandagopal noted that end-to-end innovations and a reimagining of network architecture are needed. “We need to understand how information is produced and consumed, and to incorporate non-human centered communication,” he said. Nandagopal suggested that a key challenge to a 6G future is a lack of experts across academia and industry who have end-to-end perspectives.

NSF invests roughly $50 million in basic research each year in wireless technology and more than $150 million per year in end-to-end research that assumes wireless to be an integral component. The agency is also involved in a multitude of efforts to promote translation of outcomes, including Convergence Accelerators, Innovation Corps, and Transition to Practice and Partnerships for Innovation programs. In addition, NSF's Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research effort, which began in 2018 and will continue for 7 years, is a $100 million public–private partnership including more than 30 companies focused on these kinds of technologies. Nandagopal concluded by noting that there is currently a gap between research and commercialization related to 5G, which public-private partnerships can fill.


The final session of the workshop characterized the global competitive environment on 5G and advanced wireless. Carolyn Bartholomew, chair, U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, described the United States' relationship with China regarding development of 5G technology, which began two decades ago. As China has demonstrated its ability to rapidly advance 5G technology, security issues have been at the forefront of these discussions. As part of an intellectual property commission review related to China, trade secret theft related to 5G was estimated to be high, but Bartholomew added that more is at stake than just trade secret-related economic loss. China has strategically devoted significant capital to research and development for 5G. In early June 2019, China issued 5G licenses to major technology companies and projected being in 40 cities by the end of September 2019, ahead of their original schedule of 2020. The Chinese are racing to be the first mover on 5G, and if they succeed these technologies will dominate markets, which would have great economic and national security consequences for the United States.

China's global reach relative to 5G is also a concern, Bartholomew said. Recent controversy related to the technology company Huawei has brought greater attention around this issue. In June 2019, the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies' China-Africa Research Initiative (SAIS-CARI), examined the Chinese government's role in supporting Huawei's telecommunication contracts in Africa. The company signed a contract for South Africa's first commercial 5G network—the only 5G network currently in all of Africa. SAIS-CARI found that between 2000 and 2017, there were 47 different loan-backed projects across Africa involving Huawei contracts, and 45 of these were financed by the Chinese government.

Bartholomew also discussed the implications of China's use of 5G technology to expand the surveillance state through the use of techno-authoritarian control. She noted that 5G technology could enable the Chinese government to connect and retain data on billions of people, which could be used in a number of nefarious ways. Espionage is also a serious concern, especially in light of a 2017 Chinese intelligence law directing all citizens to cooperate with government actions.

“The United States needs to take action now to address these significant security challenges,” argued Bartholomew. “Potential risks to the U.S. supply chain are serious if we do not take action.” The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission has made recommendations to Congress to direct the FCC to identify steps to secure deployment of 5G, with a focus on China. "We need to ensure that U.S. companies remain economically vibrant if China continues to pursue its current course of action related to 5G. Engagement and vigorous participation by U.S. and international organizations as we develop 5G will be critical," she emphasized. China is already actively involved in leadership in these areas.

John Smee, vice president of engineering at Qualcomm, began by describing how the world will soon view 5G technology as unifying connectivity—like electricity, we will expect it everywhere. 5G will reach new industries, enabling the factory of the future, contributing to safer autonomous transportation, reliable access to remote health care, precision agriculture, efficient use of energy and utilities, and sustainable smart cities. Smee said that 5G is transforming the communications ecosystem, including how the world connects, computes, and communicates. "As the technology develops we are thinking about expanding to new industries and new use cases. The U.S. has taken a leadership role in developing this technology," he added.

Smee noted that 2019 is the year of 5G, with global commercialization of the technology moving faster than 4G. North America, Europe, South Korea, China, the Middle East, and Australia have developed 5G technology, and have either deployed or are planning to deploy 5G in sub-6 GHz and mmWave bands (Figure 3). With the faster adoption of global technology, the first mover advantage becomes critically important.

FIGURE 3. Global snapshot of 5G spectrum bands allocated or targeted.


Global snapshot of 5G spectrum bands allocated or targeted. Source: John Smee, Qualcomm, presentation to the Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable on June 12, 2019.

To make 5G a commercial reality in 2019, Qualcomm has taken on a system approach and driven many activities. These include industry-backed R&D, the development of interoperable global standards, end-to-end system prototypes, interoperability testing and field trials, and other activities. Research and development is focusing on advanced prototypes; there is an intense focus on end-to-end research and development. "Building out test beds is also hugely important, as is academic funding into universities and companies—investment across academia is key," stated Smee.

Smee reiterated that the computing of the future will be done at the edge, in addition to the cloud. As the technology becomes widely deployed, new start-ups can leverage new investment models. "5G will transform the city of the future through network communication," said Smee. "It will also enable communication between vehicles as well as more efficient transport. It will be foundational to our economy and society."

Kelsey Guyselman, senior policy counsel, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), described the administration's efforts to advance 5G deployment in the U.S., and the role OSTP is playing in this process. In June 2017, the White House hosted a summit on emerging technologies, looking at advancements in autonomous transportation, wireless networks, smart cities, among other innovations. The following month, the president signed a memorandum on “Developing a Sustainable Spectrum Strategy for America's Future,” which tasked OSTP with the creation of two reports.1 These reports were released in May 2019. The first report addressed emerging technologies and their impact on non-federal spectrum demand, and the second recommended research and development priorities to advance spectrum access and efficiency.2

Guyselman explained that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has developed a strategy for promoting U.S. leadership in 5G, including a focus on taking action to make additional spectrum available for 5G services; updating infrastructure policies and encouraging the private sector to invest in 5G; and modernizing regulations to promote 5G backhaul and expand digital opportunity to all regions. Pai also announced the creation of the $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, aimed at promoting deployment of broadband networks in rural parts of the country. Another federal initiative, the American Broadband Initiative is a group of more than 20 federal agencies, led by the White House, the Department of Commerce, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has made commitments to change agency processes and timelines to promote private sector deployment of communications networks.

Guyselman added that 5G is an opportunity for advancements for both federal and non-federal stakeholders, and working across the aisle will be critical. “We must also be focused on the security issues at the forefront,” she concluded.

In his closing remarks, GUIRR Co-Chair Al Grasso noted that the United States needs to be a leader in setting standards with regard to safety and security of 5G and training the workforce to meet the needs of the advanced wireless industry. Grasso concluded, “The opportunities with 5G are tremendous; we will be connected in ways that we could not imagine in the past. These opportunities will require us to develop a collective strategy and effective public-private partnerships moving forward.”



Presidential Memorandum on Developing a Sustainable Spectrum Strategy for America's Future,” U.S. White House, 2019. https://www​.whitehouse​.gov/presidential-actions​/presidential-memorandum-developing-sustainable-spectrumstrategy-americas-future/.


See: “Emerging Technologies and Their Impact on Non-Federal Spectrum Demand,” Executive Office of the President of the United States, May 2019. https://www​.whitehouse​.gov/wp-content/uploads​/2019/05/Emerging-Technologiesand-Impact-on-Non-Federal-Spectrum-Demand-Report-May-2019.pdf; and “Research and Development Priorities for American Leadership in Wireless Communications,” Executive Office of the President of the United States, May 2019. https://www​.whitehouse​.gov/wp-content/uploads​/2019/05/Research-and-Development-Priorities-for-AmericanLeadership-in-Wireless-Communications-Report-May-2019.pdf.


This Proceedings of a Workshop—in Brief has been prepared by Jennifer Saunders as a factual summary of what occurred at the meeting. The committee's role was limited to planning the meeting. The statements made are those of the author or individual meeting participants and do not necessarily represent the views of all meeting participants, the planning committee, or the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.


Carl Kutsche, Idaho National Laboratory; Douglas Brake, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation; and Thyagarajan Nandagopal, National Science Foundation.


Susan Sauer Sloan, Director, GUIRR; Megan Nicholson, Program Officer; Lillian Andrews, Senior Program Assistant; Clara Savage, Financial Officer; Cyril Lee, Financial Assistant.


To ensure that it meets institutional standards for quality and objectivity, this Proceedings of a Workshop-in Brief was reviewed by Andrea Goldsmith, Stanford University and Daniel Hirleman, Purdue University. Marilyn Baker, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, served as the review coordinator.

For more information, visit

Policy and Global Affairs


The nation turns to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine for independent, objective advice on issues that affect people's lives worldwide.

SPONSORS: This workshop was supported by the Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable Membership, National Institutes of Health, Office of Naval Research, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the United States Department of Agriculture.

Suggested citation:

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. The Transformational Impact of 5G: Proceedings of a Workshop–in Brief. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Copyright 2019 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Bookshelf ID: NBK547761PMID: 31617988DOI: 10.17226/25598


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