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Report

Enabling opportunities: 5G, the internet of things, and communities of color

Executive summary

Fifth-generation (5G) mobile networks are expected to be the next big leap in mobile broadband. Peak download speeds as high as 20 gigabits-per-second will enable specialized tasks like remote precision medicine, connected cars, virtual and augmented reality, and a wide array of internet of things (IoT) applications.

Nationwide, resilient 5G networks will be needed to accommodate the growing demand for high-speed mobile broadband. While some researchers and analysts suggest that existing 4G Long-Term Evolution (LTE) technology is sufficient for the majority of IoT use cases, this paper argues that only high-speed, high-capacity, low-latency 5G broadband networks will meet the demands of increasing data-intensive applications. Moreover, 5G will support the massive numbers of devices that will simultaneously access the network, which will be far more than 4G LTE can handle. As 5G enables IoT applications, like health care, education, energy and transportation, it is imperative that they operate as anticipated, without fail, every time.

Further, 5G will be a determining factor in whether or not mobile-dependent users fully partake in the global digital economy, especially as smartphones, cell phones, and other wireless-enabled devices become the only gateway to the internet for certain populations. For communities of color that often lack reliable broadband access, 5G represents increased economic opportunity through improved access to social services, such as health care, education, transportation, energy, and employment. While lower-income African-Americans and Hispanics have similar levels of smartphone ownership as whites in the United States, they are more likely to depend on mobile services for online access, which is why 5G networks must be widely available, affordable, and able to support emerging technologies that address public interest concerns.

One area for optimized 5G use will be IoT that can offer tremendous benefits to communities of color whose members are often on the wrong side of the digital divide. This paper explores the relationship between 5G networks and IoT applications, especially as more of these functions become enabled through advanced mobile networks. In this paper, I argue that 5G networks must be nationwide, affordable, and resilient to ensure that these populations benefit from emerging technologies.

By providing both ubiquity and some level of digital equity for marginalized groups, robust 5G networks will ensure these populations are not left behind.

This paper concludes with three policy and programmatic proposals for both government and the private sector to collaborate in the deployment of 5G, while deepening their capacity and reach to communities in the most need of high-speed broadband access. By providing both ubiquity and some level of digital equity for marginalized groups, robust 5G networks will ensure these populations are not left behind.

Introduction

Fifth-generation (5G) mobile networks are expected to be the next big leap in mobile broadband. With expected peak download speeds as high as 20 gigabits-per-second, 5G users will be able to download a full-length movie in seconds and enable specialized tasks and functions, including remote precision medicine, connected cars, virtual and augmented reality experiences, as well as the internet of things (IoT).

More than 500 billion IoT devices, from sensors, to actuators, to medical devices, will be connected to the internet by 2030, according to research from Cisco.1 The data collected, aggregated, and analyzed by IoT devices will deliver insights across a wide variety of platforms and services, from health care to artificial intelligence innovations. 5G networks will be needed to meet the requirements of these data-intensive IoT devices and related cloud services.

Nationwide, resilient 5G networks will also be needed to accommodate the growing demand for high-speed mobile broadband. While some researchers and analysts suggest that existing 4G Long-Term Evolution (LTE) technology is sufficient for the majority of IoT use cases, this paper argues that only high-speed, high-capacity, low-latency 5G broadband networks will meet the demands of data-intensive applications. High-capacity and high-throughput operations will also be supported through 5G networks, making scaled IoT deployments even more cost effective. As 5G and IoT are broadly applied to life-saving devices and applications in the areas of health care, energy and transportation, it is imperative that they operate as anticipated, without fail, every time.

Further, access to 5G networks will be a determining factor in whether or not mobile-dependent users fully partake in the digital economy, especially as smartphones, cell phones, or other wireless-enabled devices have become their only gateway to the internet.

Further, access to 5G networks will be a determining factor in whether or not mobile-dependent users fully partake in the digital economy, especially as smartphones, cell phones, or other wireless-enabled devices have become their only gateway to the internet. Currently, 95 percent of Americans own a cell phone and 77 percent have smartphones, according to the Pew Research Center.2 Ownership cuts across demographic groups with African-Americans and Hispanics showing high levels of mobile device ownership. For low-income segments of these populations, wireless connectivity is most likely their only online access.

While IoT and related applications are just one of many use cases powered by next-generation mobile networks, I argue that they offer the most promise for eliminating the disadvantages resulting from the digital divide, especially for certain segments of African-Americans and Hispanics who are severely marginalized or socially isolated. Exploring the relationship between 5G and IoT by drawing upon existing use cases, this paper makes the case for why the United States needs nationwide 5G networks to leverage access to both services and opportunities for these populations.

First, I will explore how access to high-speed broadband can benefit communities of color. Next, the capabilities of 5G networks will be discussed, followed by an overview of the numerous IoT and 5G-enabled applications that, if applied, can greatly benefit online minority users. Finally, the paper will outline three policy and programmatic proposals where the government and private sector can work collaboratively to prioritize nationwide deployment of 5G networks, while broadening their capacity and reach to communities in the most need of high-speed broadband access. Data from a national online poll of 2,000 respondents that I conducted will also be shared in the paper to highlight consumer opinions around 5G deployment and use.3

Broadband access for communities of color

Twenty-four million Americans lack access to fixed, residential high-speed broadband services, according to 2018 data from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).4 This includes 13 percent of African-Americans, 11 percent of Hispanics, 35 percent of those lacking a high school degree, 22 percent of rural residents, and 37.2 percent of households that speak limited English.5 In this accounting for differences in income, age, education and other factors, many racial and ethnic groups also continue to lag behind whites in residential broadband adoption.

Despite these disparities, mobile access has converged among many of these subgroups. Seventy-seven percent of whites, 75 percent of African-Americans, and 77 percent of Hispanics own a smartphone, according to the Pew Research Center.6 For many higher-income whites, access to the internet via a smartphone supplements a high-speed, in-home broadband connection, while lower-income populations, less-educated, and younger Americans tend to be more smartphone-dependent, relying on mobile broadband as their primary and oftentimes sole connection to the internet.7 Further, 35 percent of Hispanics and 24 percent of African-Americans have no other online connection except through their smartphones or other mobile devices, compared to 14 percent of whites.8 Thirty-one percent of individuals making less than $30,000 per year regularly rely on their mobile device for internet access.9 Finally, urban residents also tend to be more smartphone-dependent at 22 percent compared to 17 percent of rural and suburban residents.

Many of these smartphone-dependent populations overlap with those impacted by higher rates of unemployment, disparate educational attainment and limited economic mobility. For example, unemployed and under-employed African-Americans may face challenges in meeting current workforce demands due to limited digital skills, training, and access to online job openings. Despite advances in education since the 1970s, African-Americans experience higher rates of unemployment, potentially attributed to the lack of digital access in an information-rich economy (Figure 1).

These disadvantages are compounded by an inability to interact with medical providers, complete homework assignments, and engage government services. As a result, certain African-Americans, like other vulnerable populations, are locked out of opportunities that could enhance their social and economic mobility. Meanwhile, providers who are unable to maintain contact with these populations may find themselves incapable of regularly monitoring chronic diseases, connecting clients to job opportunities in real-time, or assisting students with homework and research assignments in the absence of a physical classroom or library access.

Thus, 5G networks can unleash opportunities across a number of different dimensions for vulnerable populations and, at the most basic level, offer a reliable wireless connection that can reduce the less than desirable impacts of social isolation and disadvantage, which affect certain consumers of color. The next section explores 5G’s capabilities.

5G and the capabilities of next-generation mobile broadband

Each generation of mobile technology has ushered in faster and more reliable cellular and mobile internet connections, enabling a new suite of functional innovations for users. First-generation (1G) cell phones enabled mobile voice communications, while second-generation mobile networks (2G) facilitated more efficient and secure calling services, along with widely adopted mobile messaging services, or short message service (SMS). High-definition video streaming on smartphones and other multimedia applications were made possible by 3G and 4G LTE networks.

These new communications functionalities created new markets and immense value for the U.S. economy. Between 2006 and 2016, the digital economy grew at an average rate of 5.6 percent, accounting for 6.5 percent of the current dollar GDP, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.10 4G LTE contributed to this growth by supporting new digital enterprises, including shared economy apps like Uber, Lyft, and others. Ride-sharing service Uber used 4G LTE to drive its platform, leveraging the GPS location and navigation capabilities of smartphone devices. In its early stage of business, the company gave 4G-enabled handsets to its drivers to ensure the reliability and functionality of navigation systems.11 Since then, the company’s mobile platforms have supported customer reviews, shared itineraries, among other services.

smartphone_concert
Each generation of mobile technology has ushered in faster and more reliable cellular internet connections, enabling a new suite of functional innovations for users. (Credit: KC Alfred/Reuters)

Social media platforms, including Facebook, have also experienced major growth with the availability of advanced mobile technologies. Facebook’s expansion to mobile in 2007 led to more profitable advertising revenue and increased online subscribership.12

Compared to 4G LTE, 5G will bring higher bandwidths, lower latency, and increased connectivity to mobile broadband. That is, 5G will allow more data to travel faster over wider coverage areas. 5G bandwidths are projected to be 10 times higher than 4G LTE, which will contribute to the faster transmission of data, images and videos. Lower latency will also enable high-speed virtual and augmented reality video without delays or glitches. Mobile connectivity will be strengthened through “small cell” infrastructure, which will densify 5G wireless signals and improve their movement through concrete buildings, and walls. Small-cell antennas, which can be the size of a pizza box, will also enhance wireless service supporting more devices on the same network at the same time.

IoT use cases and people of color

Not surprising, IoT can be optimized on next-generation mobile networks. By definition, IoT refers to physical things connected to each other using wireless communications services.13 As a global data infrastructure, IoT devices will generate massive amounts of data, which can be used to streamline and improve a wide variety of services and industries. 5G will be an important input for IoT, especially for devices and applications that require high reliability, strong security, widespread availability, and in some cases, ultra-low latency.

Because 5G’s technical features can simultaneously support massive numbers of devices, certain segments of African-American and Hispanic populations may be able to access services that are insufficiently available in certain urban and rural communities.

Because 5G’s technical features can simultaneously support massive numbers of devices, certain segments of African-American and Hispanic populations may be able to access services that are insufficiently available in certain urban and rural communities.

When applied to the verticals of health care, education, energy use, and transportation, IoT can reduce the cost of service delivery, make more accurate decisions around outputs (including costs), and empower consumers around individual and community concerns. Many of the advanced technologies will be promising for more isolated and mobile-dependent populations, potentially solving some of their challenges. The remainder of this section describes these IoT use cases more generally.

A. Health care

In the U.S., one-in-two American adults suffer from a chronic disease, while one-in-four American adults have multiple chronic diseases.14 Compared to whites, people of color are disproportionately affected by a range of chronic diseases, especially heart disease and diabetes. For example, between 2011 and 2014, African-Americans were more likely to be afflicted by diabetes than whites (18 percent compared to 9.6 percent).15 Forty percent of African-Americans are also more likely to have high blood pressure with very little management and control of its treatment.

The life expectancy at birth for African-Americans, 75 years, is four years lower than for whites.16 For African-Americans in particular, IoT has the potential to facilitate remote diagnosis, foster adherence to prescribed interventions and medications, and assist in the administration of medical services, including appointment scheduling, insurance management, and treatment plans. For example:

  • Home health sensing, a critical intervention for chronic disease patients, uses the microphones in smartphones to replicate spirometers, which measure air flow in and out of lungs for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The data collected is used by doctors to monitor the disease’s progression in patients in real-time.
  • Novartis, Qualcomm, and Propeller Health are also tackling COPD by connecting an inhaler device to a digital platform via a sensor that passively records and transmits usage data for patients.
  • Proteus Digital Health has developed ingestible sensors that aid in treatment adherence. This sensor generates a signal after medicine is taken, which relays the data to a smartphone application and eventually to the medical provider.17

In these examples, having the ability to transmit results to health care providers means fewer trips to the hospital and improved health monitoring for patients. While data is not available on how African-Americans and Hispanics are specifically engaging these IoT applications, it is worth noting that each of these innovations are attempting to remedy the health care gaps caused by the physical or social isolation of patients. When matched with the historical data on certain chronic diseases affecting African-Americans and Hispanics, IoT health care applications can help address the disparate conditions that restrict access to primary and supportive patient care. Next-generation mobile networks can also spur the development of other emerging health care devices and applications.

B. Education

Historically, students of color have faced persistent educational disparities that unfortunately reflect differences in their socioeconomic status. While educational gaps have narrowed between whites and people of color on fourth and eighth grade math tests and fourth grade reading tests (benchmarks for student performance), African-Americans have lagged behind whites and Hispanics in educational attainment.18 Further, three-fourths of minority students attend schools where a majority of their classmates qualifies as poor or low-income compared to one-third of whites.19

IoT educational solutions can potentially contribute to more vibrant and robust school learning environments.

These statistics, coupled with the “homework gap,” or the barriers that students face when they don’t have broadband at home, further stifle educational attainment for disadvantaged populations. Data from my national survey shows that use of the internet for homework is lowest among Hispanic (2.4 percent) and African-American (2.5 percent) respondents, which could be attributed to an insufficient or non-existent broadband connection. Universal service programs, such as Lifeline and E-Rate, can help to alleviate some of the barriers to low-income broadband adoption, but they are not wholly sustainable by themselves to level the playing field for students of color.20

In line with the argument in this paper, IoT educational solutions can potentially contribute to more vibrant and robust school learning environments, including:

  • Interactive whiteboards;
  • eBooks;
  • Tablets and mobile devices;
  • 3-D printers;
  • Student ID cards; and,
  • Student tracking systems.21

IoT can also personalize the learning experience for students by tailoring lessons to the student’s pace and style of learning, and capturing more data about the factors that boost their performance with every lesson.22 One such application is the result of IBM’s partnership with the textbook publisher Pearson to create software that allows students to ask questions, provides helpful feedback to the student, and keeps instructors updated on student progress.23 But, these applications and others require high-bandwidth connections, which are often not available or consistent in lower-income neighborhoods.

IoT technologies can also expand the possibilities for what and where students learn. Leveraging IoT, students of color can collaborate with each other and teachers in real time regardless of distance.24 For example, using virtual reality headsets, students in remote locations can place themselves in a classroom with their peers or transport teachers and students anywhere in the world (or universe) that the curriculum takes them, from inside the human body to the far reaches of the solar system.25 For students of color in less digitally connected schools, these technologies can make a marked difference in educational outcomes.

Students at the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School. June 20, 2008. REUTERS/Adam Hunger (UNITED STATES) - GM1E4770OG001
IoT and 5G technologies can expand educational access for students in need. (Credit: Adam Hunger/Reuters)

In addition to these classroom possibilities, some schools are also engaging IoT applications to:

  • Embed RFID chips in ID cards to track the presence of students, enabling tracking of tardiness and absenteeism and logging of students’ presence on campus.26
  • Deploy GPS-enabled bus systems where routes can be tracked so parents and administrators know where a given bus is at any time. Students can also be notified when the bus is near their pickup location to avoid long waits.
  • Activate wireless key lock systems in classrooms to ensure student safety.

While these applications can operate over today’s 4G LTE networks, the affordability, scalability, and accessibility of 5G is projected to make these tools even more effective and precise.

C. Transportation

Another noteworthy utility is 5G’s capacity to support machine-to-machine communications. This is crucial for the deployment of safe, reliable, and efficient autonomous vehicles, which need vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications support. Intelligent vehicles have been shown to reduce traffic congestion, road accidents, and improve consumer mobility–all benefits of particular interest to African-American and Hispanic populations because of various factors:27

  • Hispanics and African-Americans experienced a higher rate of pedestrian deaths from 2005 to 2014 (1.40 and 1.74 per 100,000 people, respectively) than whites or Asian-Americans (both .93 deaths per 100,000 people).28 5G-enabled smart vehicles can significantly reduce such accidents owing to their enhanced sensors.
  • An observational study conducted by the University of Alabama-Birmingham showed that significant disparities in mobility exist between older African-Americans and whites, which propel disparities in functional ability and physical performance.29 For elderly people of color—in particular those who live in more rural and remote areas— autonomous vehicles can be a part of the process of aging-in-place by offering some level of independence.
  • People of color are more likely to be affected by high levels of air pollution due to residential location. Overall, nitrogen dioxide concentrations for nonwhites were 37 percent higher than for whites in 2010.30 Autonomous vehicles communicating over 5G networks with each other and with smart transportation infrastructure are projected to reduce traffic congestion.31 The less time that vehicles spend idling in traffic the fewer pollutants are emitted, leading to better health outcomes in communities where minorities live.

For elderly people of color—in particular those who live in more rural and remote areas— autonomous vehicles can be a part of the process of aging-in-place by offering some level of independence.

But, autonomous vehicles need wide area network infrastructure to operate.32 In the absence of 5G networks with the low-latency to support these transportation solutions, low-income customers in both urban and rural communities are more likely to become victims, rather than beneficiaries of these emerging transportation technologies, simply because their communities are unable to deploy reliable and resilient communications networks.

D. Energy

5G can support wider adoption of clean energy by enabling smart grids that integrate wind, solar, and other renewable sources into existing grids.33 Because wind and solar power are more decentralized and weather-dependent, electricity grids will need fast and reliable communications over 5G networks to switch power sources dynamically based on availability. Smart grids can expand access to renewable energy sources to all electricity customers without the price increases associated with customers exiting the grid, which disproportionately affects low-income communities of color.34

The gap in availability of clean energy between low-income communities of color and others will also have devastating consequences if IoT and 5G technologies are not equitably deployed. Generally, African-American and Hispanic households spend 7.2 percent of household income on utility services, or three times more than other households (2.3 percent).35 Thus, the deployment of 5G-enabled smart grids and smart household meters must anticipate and avoid potential income disparities in access to new energy technology.

5G’s direct impact on employment

African-Americans and Hispanics are also positioned to directly benefit from the workforce opportunities resulting from 5G deployment and use.

African-Americans and Hispanics are also positioned to directly benefit from the workforce opportunities resulting from 5G deployment and use. A recent report from Accenture estimates that the transition to 5G will create 50,000 new construction jobs in the U.S. to install new wireless infrastructure over a seven-year period.36 During a public event, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr stated that small-cell deployment would create 27,000 jobs.37 These numbers do not include additional economic growth from expanding broadband access to Americans. The adoption of 5G technology into the broader economy could also create an additional 2.2 million jobs.38 Available 5G networks will also be able to connect job seekers to more diverse labor opportunities by enabling more telecommuting through videoconferencing and other remote applications. And, faster connection speeds can help individuals learn new skills through online courses and certifications. This will be critical in ensuring people of color are not further disadvantaged due to a lack of digital or other relevant skills.

In conclusion, high-speed, next-generation broadband networks and IoT, along with the technologies and applications they will enable, could greatly benefit people of color and position them for the emerging pathway to economic and social opportunities.

Policy recommendations

Looking ahead to 5G deployment, this next section outlines three policies, which should be priorities as the government and the private sector seek to realize the full value of advanced mobile services and ensure that certain segments of African-American and Hispanic populations are not left behind.

  1. 5G solutions must be able to bolster capacity, speed, and coverage to reach more populations of color.

Efforts to deploy 5G networks must focus on achieving ubiquitous service to minority populations that offers high capacity and speed. Several wireless carriers have already announced plans to launch 5G within certain U.S. cities.39 Whether the product is being pushed as a substitute for fixed broadband or a complementary mobility solution, emerging 5G networks are expected to offer services beyond traditional mobile services and video, which are two popular use cases for consumers.

While some industry leaders are experimenting with millimeter-wave or higher spectrum frequencies, these bands alone may not be sufficient to penetrate urban structures or go the distance in rural communities, where some of these lower-income consumers live. Because millimeter-wave spectrum transmits at frequencies between 24-79GHz, one of the shortcomings of these higher-frequencies is the reduced ability to travel through buildings, foliage, rain, or other obstacles, as well as go an adequate distance even in unimpeded spaces. Addressing these coverage challenges will be crucial in expanding national broadband access and allowing users to seamlessly take advantage of 5G, IoT, and other next-generation applications.

Given the limitations of millimeter-wave signals, there is a case for the greater use of low-band, or 600–700 MHz spectrum and cellular Specialized Mobile Radio, especially for improved in-building and more rural coverage. Models that embrace a multi-band spectrum approach that leverages both high-, mid-, and low-bands would best serve minority populations and their use of IoT applications and devices by providing greater coverage. This is particularly significant to low-income communities of color, who receive 15 percent less cell phone coverage than their wealthier counterparts, which can largely be due to where they live and their choice of wireless providers.40 By promoting efforts to ensure that wireless carriers have adequate access to combined mid- and low-band spectrum, policymakers can promote some level of broadband coverage in both urban and rural communities.

Policymakers can also encourage the expeditious deployment of small cells, which will also be critical in serving minority populations who are vastly concentrated in urban areas. Local governments should support the streamlining of siting and permitting processes and standardize pricing on pole attachments. Slow and expensive permitting could not only stifle 5G deployment in these communities, but also lead to slower network upgrades, resulting in lags in the functions of critical IoT applications in health care, public safety, and other areas. In the end, cities run the risk of foreclosing on the opportunities presented by 5G networks through delayed and stalled small-cell rollouts.

Slow and expensive permitting could not only stifle 5G deployment in these communities, but also lead to slower network upgrades, resulting in lags in the functions of critical IoT applications in health care, public safety, and other areas.

From an infrastructure perspective, combined spectrum opportunities that broaden both the capacity and coverage in all communities, along with the blanketing of small-cell antennae, are both reasonable measures that promote both ubiquity and some level of digital equity for marginalized populations and their communities.

  1. 5G must be affordable for consumers, despite massive telecom investments and costs.

5G investments are speculated to increase GDP by $500 billion.41 However, 5G networks will be expensive to deploy, particularly as wireless carriers are projected to invest in multiple network inputs, including spectrum, radio access network (RAN) infrastructure, transmission, and core networks. Telecom companies alone are expected to invest $275 billion over the next seven years in building out 5G networks.42 Some analysts have suggested that about $200 million will be spent in the 5G deployment in the first few years of service, while other analysts are projecting a $2.4 trillion spend between 2020 and 2030.43 The largest expenditure for many wireless carriers will be in small cells to drive wireless capacity.

These massive investments may prompt wireless carriers to either subsidize 5G investments, at least in the short-term, or consider passing these costs on to consumers, which could deter widespread adoption.

In the national online survey of 2,000 respondents that I conducted as part of this paper, 47 percent of respondents shared that they would not pay more to double or triple their current speeds. Given this finding, service providers will have to exercise more flexibility in pricing and data caps to ensure affordability and to drive consumer demand for faster networks.

Since 5G will allow for a multiplicity of functions, opportunities should exist for tiered or pre-paid pricing structures that can account for possible cost savings to consumers. For example, some of these savings could come from new market opportunities, including home video or cloud-based services, while other savings could result from 5G’s ability to operate in licensed and unlicensed spectrum, which could offer deeper and more flexible coverage that also results in reduced costs to consumers.

In addition, massive IoT and greater capacity to support scaled deployments of devices is expected to result in lower unit costs. Private sector solutions that leverage multiple spectrum bands, as previously discussed, could also reduce 5G costs by covering more areas and making services available to more low-income users—increasing the volume of subscribers.

A mobile phone mast with 5G technology is pictured at the 5G Mobility Lab of telecommunications company Vodafone in Aldenhoven, Germany, November 27, 2018. Picture taken November 27, 2018. REUTERS/Thilo Schmuelgen - RC18E49931E0
Although 5G will require massive investments, it must remain affordable for consumers. (Credit: Thilo Schmuelgen/Reuters)

There is also a chance that many mobile users will likely reach their monthly cap if data consumption trends escalate as projected. Given these possibilities, it will be important for wireless providers to offer a range of mobile service plans, including unlimited data options, bundles, or pre-paid programs, to ensure affordability for consumers. In the move from 3G to 4G/LTE, subscribers used more data, largely due to the growth of internet-based applications. A 2013 study from Mobidia found that the data usage of 100,000 Android LTE users in the U.S., South Korea and Japan was higher with 4G/LTE.44 That is, LTE users consumed far more data than those using 3G. According to the study, LTE smartphone users in Korea used on average 2.2GB of data per-month compared to just under 1GB on 3G smartphones—a difference of 132 percent, compared to a 36 percent increase in the U.S. (or, around 1.3 GB LTE data compared to 956MB on 3G).

Overall, the Mobidia study concluded that the greater availability of data would lead to increased usage.45 The availability of 5G is already anticipated to fuel mobile data traffic growth. By 2021, a 5G connection will generate 4.7 times more traffic than the average 4G connection, according to research conducted by Cisco.46

Generally, consumers of color have benefited from pre-paid plans over the years, suggesting similar results could occur if these options were extended to 5G customers. For many smartphone owners, the monthly cost of maintaining a device can be a financial hardship, with 23 percent of subscribers having to cancel or shut off their service for a period of time due to cost.47 In fact, 44 percent of smartphone owners who make under $30,000 per year have done so, and African-Americans and Hispanics are twice as likely as whites to have done the same.48 When it comes to mobile service, lower-income smartphone users tend to subscribe to relatively low-cost plans (including pre-paid) and often find themselves cancelling their service due as a result of affordability concerns.49

While the monthly cost of 5G mobile service is not yet determined for consumers, more pre- and post-paid plans, and not less, should be encouraged in the marketplace to guarantee ubiquity in use. Further, more flexibility in data plans and not just rigid caps may be a more viable solution for consumers where cost matters.

While government programs, such as Lifeline, can also alleviate the economic burden for consumers, the discounts must be applied to mobile services, especially as they become the primary conduit to the internet.50 Once fully deployed, 5G services should be eligible for government subsidies targeted to mobile access to ensure the participation of historically disadvantaged and vulnerable populations in the digital economy.

  1. 5G networks must serve the public interest.

Much of this paper is focused on advancing some of the public-good applications of 5G and IoT technologies, such as health care and education. In the race to launch 5G networks ahead of international competitors, including China and Korea, government and industry leaders must keep promoting innovation and growth by emphasizing that next-generation mobile networks will help improve, if not save, the lives of millions of Americans by cultivating better access to social and institutional services.

In the race to launch 5G networks ahead of international competitors, including China and Korea, government and industry leaders must keep promoting innovation and growth by emphasizing that next-generation mobile networks will help improve, if not save, the lives of millions of Americans.

The recent White House memorandum on spectrum policy appears to be in sync with the national efforts to deploy 5G networks.51 Requesting the coordination of federal agencies on spectrum availability and sharing opportunities, the administration is at least suggesting the removal of federal and regulatory red tape to expedite build-out. The memorandum further designates a spectrum task force drawn from federal agency stakeholders to increase the sharing of scarce spectrum resources among federal agencies and the private sector so that more spectrum is available for commercial 5G wireless networks. The White House’s strategy will also enhance spectrum management through flexible-use licenses that allow for temporary use of spectrum bands.

The FCC has also been working to address outdated regulatory processes and barriers within local bureaucracies that stifle the deployment of local cell sites and other communications infrastructure. Similar to the White House, the agency is working to develop the optimal national criteria for advancing next-generation, mobile networks.52

These governmental efforts are critical in freeing up the resources required to operate reliable, resilient and nationwide 5G networks. With this type of support, companies can focus on 5G solutions and applications that advance the public good, whether through making dents in health and wellness disparities or helping students gain access to more equitable learning environments and communities. In either case, the increased availability of spectrum will create the allowances for more strategic and purposeful IoT applications that can support communities of color and other vulnerable populations.

Conclusion

5G represents increased economic opportunity through improved access to social services, such as health care, education, transportation, energy, employment, and even public safety for communities of color—and, frankly, any other vulnerable group—that lacks access to a reliable broadband connection. This attribute is particularly important for African-Americans and Hispanics who have become increasingly reliant on mobile networks for broadband connectivity, while experiencing a degree of isolation from institutional and social services.

5G represents increased economic opportunity through improved access to social services for communities of color—and, frankly, any other vulnerable group—that lacks access to a reliable broadband connection.

5G access will not only provide an online gateway, but it will also expose certain populations to myriad benefits, including those enabled by IoT, which can ultimately improve the quality of their lives.

As efforts to advance the new technology become more prominent among legislators, communications providers, and even some citizen groups, U.S. policymakers must work diligently to identify and support 5G network deployment and adoption nationwide, especially in ways that bring exponential benefit to Americans in need. Without these actions, certain populations will remain relegated to the wrong side of the digital divide, failing to realize the power and potential of existing and emerging technologies.

The author would like to thank Jack Karsten and Madhu Kumar for the research support that they provided for this report.

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Footnotes

  1. Cisco. 2016. “Internet of Things.” https://www.cisco.com/c/dam/en/us/products/collateral/se/internet-of things/at-a-glance-c45-731471.pdf.
  2. “Mobile Fact Sheet.” 2018. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center, February 5, 2018. www.pewinternet.org/fact  sheet/mobile.
  3. This online survey polled 2,000 adult internet users in the United States September 9 to 11, 2018 through the Google Surveys platform. Responses were weighted using gender, age, and region to match the demographics of the national internet population as estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey. This research was made possible by Google Surveys, which donated use of its online survey platform. The questions and findings are solely those of the researchers and not influenced by any donation. For more detailed information on the methodology, see the Google Surveys Whitepaper.
  4. “2018 Broadband Deployment Report.” 2018. Washington, DC: Federal Communications Commission, February 5, 2018. https://www.fcc.gov/reports-research/reports/broadband-progress-reports/2018-broadband-deployment-report.
  5. Ryan, Camille. 2018. “Computer and Internet Use in the United States: 2016.” U.S. Census: American Community Survey Reports, August 2018. https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2018/acs/acs-39.html. See also: Anderson, Monica, Andrew Perrin, and Jingjing Jiang. 2018. “11% of Americans Don’t Use the Internet. Who Are They?” Fact Tank (blog), Washington, DC: Pew Research Center, March 5, 2018. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/03/05/some-americans-dont-use-the-internet-who-are-they/. Anderson, Monica, and Andrew Perrin. 2017. “Disabled Americans Less Likely to Use Technology.” Fact Tank (blog), Washington, DC: Pew Research Center, April 7, 2017. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/04/07/disabled-americans-are-less-likely-to-use-technology/.
  6. “Mobile Fact Sheet.” 2018. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center, February 5, 2018. http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheet/mobile/.
  7. Ibid.
  8. “Internet/Broadband Fact Sheet.” 2018. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center, February 5, 2018. www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheet/internet-broadband.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Barefoot, Kevin, Dave Curtis, William Jolliff, Jessica R. Nicholson, and Robert Omohundro. 2018. “Defining and Measuring the Digital Economy.” Washington, DC: Bureau of Economic Analysis, March 15, 2018. https://www.bea.gov/system/files/papers/WP2018-4.pdf.
  11. Price, Chris. 2015. “Digital technology drives Uber to global success.” The Telegraph, January 27, 2015. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/sponsored/technology/4g-mobile/engaging-customers/11366554/digital-echnology-uber.html.
  12. Arthur, Charles. 2014. “Facebook’s mobile journey has only just begun, but already makes money.” The Guardian, February 3, 2014. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/feb/03/facebook-mobile-desktop-pc-platforms.
  13. Popescul, Daniela, and Mircea Georgescu. “Internet of Things – Some Ethical Issues.” The USV Annals of Economics and Public Administration 13, no. 2 (18) (2013). http://seap.usv.ro/annals/ojs/index.php/annals/article/viewFile/628/599.
  14. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “Chronic Diseases in America”. Fact Sheet. https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/infographic/chronic-diseases.html.
  15. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health.” Fact Sheet. https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/aag/pdf/2016/reach-aag.pdf
  16. Arias, Elizabeth, Melonie Heron, and Jiaquan Xu. 2017. “United States Life Tables, 2014.” National Vital Statistics Report 66, no. 4 (August 14, 2017): 64.
  17. “Adherence to Long-Term Therapies.” Washington, DC: World Health Organization, 2013. http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/42682/9241545992.pdf.
  18. “Indicator 6: Elementary and Secondary Enrollment.” 2017. National Center for Education Statistics. July 2017. https://nces.ed.gov/programs/raceindicators/indicator_rbb.asp.
  19. “The Condition of Education - Preprimary, Elementary, and Secondary Education - Schools - Concentration of Public School Students Eligible for Free or Reduced-Price Lunch - Indicator March (2018).” National Center for Education Statistics. March 2018. https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_clb.asp.
  20. “E-Rate: Universal Service Program for Schools and Libraries.” 2011. Federal Communications Commission. May 24, 2011. https://www.fcc.gov/consumers/guides/universal-service-program-schools-and-libraries-e-rate.
    “Lifeline Support for Affordable Communications.” 2016. Federal Communications Commission. March 4, 2016. https://www.fcc.gov/consumers/guides/lifeline-support-affordable-communications.
  21. “IoT in the Classroom: How Traditional Education is Changing.” Aldridge. August 17, 2016. https://aldridge.com/future-iot-in-the-classroom-education/
  22. Leligou, Helen C., Emmnouil Zacharioudakis, Louisa Bouta, and Evangelos Niokos. 2017. "5G technologies boosting efficient mobile learning." MATEC Web of Conferences, vol. 125, p. 03004. EDP Sciences, 2017.
  23. “IBM and Pearson to Drive Cognitive Learning Experiences for College Students.” 2016. IBM News Room. October 25, 2016. https://www-03.ibm.com/press/us/en/pressrelease/50842.wss.
  24. Leligou, Helen C., Emmnouil Zacharioudakis, Louisa Bouta, and Evangelos Niokos. 2017. "5G technologies boosting efficient mobile learning." MATEC Web of Conferences, vol. 125, p. 03004. EDP Sciences, 2017.
  25. Mirzamany, Esmat, Adrian Neal, Mischa Dohler, and Maria Lema Rosas. “5G and Education.” Bristol, United Kingdom: Jisc, n.d. https://community.jisc.ac.uk/sites/default/files/Education-VM_Extended.pdf.
  26. Kravets, David. 2012. “Tracking School Children with RFID Tags? It’s all about the Benjamins.” Wired, September 7, 2012. https://www.wired.com/2012/09/rfid-chip-student-monitoring/.
  27. West, Darrell M. “Achieving Sustainability in a 5G World.” 2016. Washington DC: Brookings Institution. November 30, 2016. https://www.brookings.edu/research/achieving-sustainability-in-a-5g-world/. See also, Harrold, Phil, and Charles Johnson-Ferguson. “The Future of Consumer Mobility: Could Integrated Transport Drive a New Digital Divide? - Industry Perspectives.” https://pwc.blogs.com/industry_perspectives/2015/02/the-future-of-consumer-mobility-could-integrated-transport-drive-a-new-digital-divide.html.
  28. “Traffic Safety Facts: Race and Ethnicity.” Washington DC: NHTSA’s National Center for Statistics and Analysis, August 2009. https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/810995
  29. Allman, Richard M, Patricia Sawyer Baker, Richard M Maisiak, Richard V Sims, and Jeffrey M Roseman. “Racial Similarities and Differences in Predictors of Mobility Change over Eighteen Months.” Journal of General Internal Medicine 19, no. 11 (November 2004): 1118–26. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1525-1497.2004.30239.x.
  30. Clark, Lara P., Dylan B. Millet, and Julian D. Marshall. 2017. “Changes in Transportation-Related Air Pollution Exposures by Race-Ethnicity and Socioeconomic Status: Outdoor Nitrogen Dioxide in the United States in 2000 and 2010.” Environmental Health Perspectives 125, no. 9 (September 14, 2017): 097012. https://doi.org/10.1289/EHP959.
  31. West, Darrell M. “Achieving Sustainability in a 5G World.” 2016. Washington DC: Brookings Institution. November 30, 2016. https://www.brookings.edu/research/achieving-sustainability-in-a-5g-world/.
  32. Neef, Dale. “Will Self-Driving Vehicles Finally Bring Broadband to Rural America?” Governing the States and Localities, May 31, 2018. http://www.governing.com/gov-institute/voices/col-self-driving-autonomous-vehicles rural-broadband.html.
  33. “5G and Energy.” 2015. Ghent, Belgium: 5G Infrastructure Association, September 30, 2015. https://5g-ppp.eu/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/5G-PPP-White_Paper-on-Energy-Vertical-Sector.pdf.
  34. Because low-income populations are more likely to rent rather than own housing, they are unable to take advantage of the falling cost of rooftop solar units. Unsurprisingly, minority groups around the country have opposed tax incentives for installing solar panels because it excludes renters and raises their utility bills.
  35. “Report: ‘Energy Burden’ on Low-Income, African American, & Latino Households up to Three Times as High as Other Homes, More Energy Efficiency Needed.” 2016. American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, April 20, 2016. https://aceee.org/press/2016/04/report-energy-burden-low-income.
  36. Al Amine, Majed, Kenneth Mathias, and Thomas Dyer. “Smart Cities: How 5G Can Help Municipalities Become Vibrant Smart Cities.” Accenture Strategy, 2017. https://www.accenture.com/t20170222T202102__w__/us-en/_acnmedia/PDF-43/Accenture-5G-Municipalities-Become-Smart-Cities.pdf.
  37. Carr, Brendan. “Grassroots Leadership on 5G.” Remarks, Indianapolis, IN, September 4, 2018. https://docs.fcc.gov/public/attachments/DOC-353925A1.pdf.
  38. Al Amine, Majed, Kenneth Mathias, and Thomas Dyer. 2017. “Smart Cities: How 5G Can Help Municipalities Become Vibrant Smart Cities.” Accenture Strategy. 2017. https://www.accenture.com/t20170222T202102__w__/us-en/_acnmedia/PDF-43/Accenture-5G-Municipalities-Become-Smart-Cities.pdf.
  39. Verizon has already introduced their Ultra-Wide band 5G product, which is being tested in 11 national markets, including Ann Arbor, MI, Sacramento, CA, and Washington, DC. AT&T is seeking to launch a standards-based, 5G network in 12 markets, and perhaps more, before the end of 2018. Sprint and T-Mobile, who announced merger plans earlier this year, are proposing a multi-band 5G strategy. The New T-Mobile is expected to support wider 5G coverage in urban areas compared to AT&T and Verizon using T-Mobile and Sprint’s combined millimeter wave holdings of 28GHZ and 39GHZ spectrum bands, the assets of the New T Mobile – which also include 600MHZ and 2.5GHZ spectrum assets.
  40. Nelson, Patrick. 2016. “Low-income neighborhoods have worse cell phone service, study finds.” Network World, May 13, 2016. https://www.networkworld.com/article/3069464/mobile-wireless/low-income-neighborhoods-have-worse-cell-phone-service-study-finds.html.
  41. Al Amine, Majed, Kenneth Mathias, and Thomas Dyer. 2017. “Smart Cities: How 5G Can Help Municipalities Become Vibrant Smart Cities.” Accenture Strategy. https://www.accenture.com/t20170222T202102__w__/us-en/_acnmedia/PDF-43/Accenture-5G-Municipalities-Become-Smart-Cities.pdf.
  42. Ibid.
  43. Campbell, Karen, Jim Diffley, Bob Flanagan, Bill Morelli, Brendan O’Neil, and Francis Sideco. 2017. “The 5G Economy: How 5G Technology Will Contribute to the Global Economy.” IHS Economics/IHS Technology, January 2017. https://www.qualcomm.com/media/documents/files/ihs-5g-economic-impact-study.pdf.
  44. Bryant, Martin. 2013. “LTE Users Consume More Data than on 3G, but Big Data Plans Drive Use More than Speed.” The Next Web, January 3, 2013. https://thenextweb.com/mobile/2013/01/03/lte-3g-data-comparison-mobidia/.
  45. Ibid.
  46. Cisco. 2017. “Cisco Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update.” 2016-2021 White Paper, March 28, 2017. https://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/solutions/collateral/service-provider/visual-networking-index-vni/mobile-white-paper-c11-520862.html.
  47. Smith, Aaron. 2015. U.S. “Smartphone Use in 2015.” Washington, DC: Pew Research Center, April 1, 2015. http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/04/01/chapter-one-a-portrait-of-smartphone-ownership/.
  48. Ibid.
  49. Ibid.
  50. “Lifeline Support for Affordable Communications.” Federal Communications Commission, March 4, 2016. https://www.fcc.gov/consumers/guides/lifeline-support-affordable-communications.
  51. Trump, Donald J. “Presidential Memorandum on Developing a Sustainable Spectrum Strategy for America’s Future.” The White House. https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/presidential-memorandum-developing-sustainable-spectrum-strategy-americas-future/.
  52. “Declatory Ruling and Third Report and Order.” Federal Communications Commission, September 27, 2018. https://docs.fcc.gov/public/attachments/FCC-18-133A1.pdf.

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