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Spending bill paves way for 5G

The $1.3 trillion US government spending bill just signed into law includes a bipartisan effort to accelerate the spread of 5G in the US.

President Donald Trump speaks to the press about the $1.3 trillion spending bill passed by Congress early Friday.

President Donald Trump speaks to the press about the $1.3 trillion spending bill passed by Congress early Friday. 

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

It looks like 5G deployments in the states will be getting a kick-start.

The $1.3 trillion US government spending bill signed into law Friday includes a bipartisan effort to speed the rollout of 5G: the Ray Baum Act, named in honor of the late Energy & Commerce staff director who died last month. The legislation folds in language from the Mobile Now Act, which identifies more spectrum that can be used for 5G.

The legislative package also clears the way for wireless spectrum auctions and reauthorizes the FCC for the first time in 28 years. 

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai applauded the legislation's passage.

"Today's action by President Trump and Congress will help America lead the world in 5G," Pai said. "It is also noteworthy that this constitutes the first reauthorization of the FCC in decades. Reauthorization helps our agency steer a path forward in our work on behalf of the American people."

The news comes as regulators and wireless companies talk up the benefits of 5G, or the fifth generation of wireless technology. The tech promises to be significantly faster and more responsive than previous generations of wireless technology. It's expected to usher in innovative applications in self-driving cars, telemedicine and the trend in net-connected devices called the internet of things.  

While the promise of 5G has been hyped, actual rollouts have been slow. Regulators at the FCC have been pushing policies to ensure the US maintains its leadership in wireless. On Thursday it voted to relax requirements for 5G small cell radio deployments in order to speed deployment.

Industry watchers expect US wireless providers to make significant headway in 2018. Verizon and AT&T plan to launch limited mobile 5G service this year, while T-Mobile and Sprint are setting things up now for a commercial launch early next year. Handset makers and chipmakers are working to get devices ready for 2019 as well.

Pai announced in February, at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, that the FCC is planning a series of auctions starting this year in midrange and higher frequency radio bands to feed demand for 5G wireless service. 

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