5G Action Now aims to win 5G race against China, zeroes in on C-band

A new advocacy organization called 5G Action Now is sounding the alarm about how the U.S. needs to act fast in order to win the 5G race against China.

The group, which yesterday announced former U.S. Representative Mike Rogers of Michigan as its chairman, said what’s at issue today is whether China or the United States takes the lead in deploying the technology and, therefore, reaps the economic rewards derived from dominance in 5G.

Top of mind for the organization: The C-band, which was embroiled in debate much of last year. In November, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced the FCC is committed a public auction of 280 MHz of C-band spectrum, and the agency intends to get the spectrum teed up for auction by the end of this year. 

Rogers told FierceWireless that seeing that spectrum through to the auction is something 5G Action Now will be focused on. Besides satellite companies and the FCC, it will work with policy makers and the general public to make them aware of what’s at stake.

The reason there’s a sense of urgency is “if we wait and 2020 passes us and we haven’t gotten to opening up that C-band spectrum, it gets exponentially harder for us to win this race on the 5G infrastructure,” he said.

Update: The exact source of 5G Action Now’s funding seems a bit of a mystery. Light Reading earlier reported the connection between the C-Band Alliance (CBA) companies and 5G Action Now.

While a CBA representative declined to comment to FierceWireless, a spokesman for 5G Action Now shared this statement: “The C-Band alliance is a strategic partner in that we share the goal of a 2020 public auction.” He did not reveal the degree to which the CBA is involved, however, including financing.

Chinese threats

In 2012, Rogers, who was chairman of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and his Democratic colleague, Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, recommended the U.S. government and American firms avoid using equipment from Huawei and ZTE, citing those companies’ ties to the Chinese government. Since then and since leaving Congress, Rogers kept a close eye on those two firms and their activities, including the FBI indictment against Huawei that outlined how the company set up bonuses for employees who stole intellectual property.

“I”ve been really keen on trying to make sure that we slow them down and at least allow Western-valued companies to compete,” he said. “Well, I learned that’s just not enough.”

Opening up the C-band “Goldilocks” spectrum is important so that U.S. and Western-valued companies can do what the Chinese can’t do on the same level, and that’s innovate, he added. While it’s important to tell the world that Huawei and ZTE pose a massive security risk, “we need to get this spectrum up and running so our companies can compete and innovate the next generation of 5G technology and services.”

5G Action Now’s job is to help the government get the spectrum auctioned as fast as possible, working with grassroots supporters and other stakeholders, including potentially Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana, who pushed for a public auction for the C-band.

The organization also wants to make sure the current users of the spectrum are not interrupted through the transition. The satellite companies using the C-band provide services for broadcasters, cable companies and others that serve more than 120 million Americans across the country.

“What we don’t want is a big fight during the process of this because it wasn’t done in a sense of fairness,” said Rogers, who regularly appears on radio and TV programs and hosts the CNN Original Series Declassified. 

The compensation for satellite companies to relocate is part of the current debate. Rogers said he believes the government gave these companies, which invested billions of dollars in the U.S., the ability to use the spectrum, and if it’s asking them to give up something, they should be fairly compensated, which helps to make sure they’re part of a positive transition.

RELATED: Senate Commerce Committee OKs C-band auction bill

As for the 5G “race” with China, it’s not about operators competing against one another for customers because they don’t, but it’s about building out the infrastructure, according to Rogers.

“What I believe happens is once the Western-valued companies compete and win, they are going to set the standards” for quality and services, he said. “Our goal is … how fast can we get this C-band auction up and out the door and that’s exactly what we’re going to help do.”

The C-band is widely seen as offering the best prospects for U.S. operators looking for mid-band spectrum for 5G. The CBRS 3.5 GHz band comes with power limitations and is considered more encumbered, although an auction for the licensed part of the band is set to start June 25. 

T-Mobile could get its mid-band spectrum fix if the proposed merger with Sprint ultimately gets approved, but if it's not, then it presumably will be in the market much more aggressively for other mid-band spectrum. Sprint holds a treasure trove of 2.5 GHz spectrum, and it's not clear what happens with that if the merger isn't approved. 

Story updated with additional information on C-Band Alliance.