The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) declares that 5G and Wi-Fi are complementary technologies. This sanguine observation belies the intense competition between policy actors to secure finite radio spectrum for these technologies. Although consumers may experience the “seamlessness” enabled by wireless technologies, there are important economic, spectrum, and security differences between 5G and Wi-Fi. The technical elements of 5G and Wi-Fi have different security vulnerabilities in protocols, infrastructure, encryption, authentication, and equipment. The FCC spectrum allocation decisions have inherent security implications, particularly when it can deem a spectrum band for licensed or unlicensed use. To demonstrate the differences and the policy implications, the article reviews the FCC’s C-band auction for 280 MHz for 5G and the FCC’s 6 gigahertz (GHz) proceeding for 1200 MHz for unlicensed use, though Wi-Fi is considered the leading application. Although an imperfect analysis, a preliminary comparison suggests that the C-band spectrum provides 4.5 times more economic value per MHz than Wi-Fi in the 6 GHz band. The article briefly explores the role of institutional entrepreneurship to suggest that the FCC’s spectrum decisions are not necessarily a straightforward comparison of the cost and benefits of the technologies but rather the outcome of a complex interplay of policy actors, particularly trade associations. The recent experience offers a counterpoint to the regulatory enthusiasm for unlicensed use and suggests a revisiting of the calculations of opportunity cost in spectrum allocation models.
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- 6 GHz
- Institutional entrepreneurs
- Unlicensed spectrum