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Beyond the Rhetoric

Transforming from analogue through ‘airwaves’

Harry C. Alford ow contributor | 8/9/2018, midnight

This year’s annual conference, “A More Dynamic Economy: How to Transform Our Analogue Economy with 21st Century Solutions,” featured a panel on smart community solutions through fifth-generation (5G) wireless. Our session gave African-American entrepreneurs the opportunity to learn more about 5G’s opportunities as well as the challenges faced by providers trying to invest billions in our communities.

Dr. Nicol Turner-Lee of the Brookings Institution moderated the discussion, having authored a recent piece on the topic of 5G in depth. Throughout their efforts to roll out 5G, wireless companies continue to meet with communities and come up with tailored smart solutions using wireless networks. Notably, African-Americans over-index in their usage of mobile services.

Building off our conference dialogue, successful 5G deployment will require the additional release of something called “spectrum.” Spectrum refers to the airwaves necessary for mobile coverage and capacity. Both minority businesses as well as their customers have shown a remarkable preference for the mobile marketplace in recent years.

Mobile communications are now the norm for buying, selling, and advertising goods and services. With so many more users on the networks than ever before, it would follow that access to more airwaves is necessary to keep up. It is for this reason that the National Black Chamber supports the AIRWAVES Act, bipartisan federal legislation authorizing access to new bands of spectrum.

Our membership spans the entire country, with a mix of areas ranging from urban to rural. The text indicates that the bill will not only open more airwaves overall, but also that 10% of spectrum auction funds will be carved out for unserved and underserved community deployment including rural areas.

Because our members are community business leaders, conference attendees were specifically interested in learning how 5G can assist minority entrepreneurship. One of our members, Charles Harrell of IT Architect, led off his comments by showing why minority business owners should be paying attention. The discussion revealed that next-generation networks will provide the computing power needed to improve their businesses. This included everything from direct network connectivity improvements to market intelligence benefits through enhanced data analytics.

Diverse businesses will be directly aided by increased opportunities and reduced costs. Massive carrier investment in 5G deployment will enable the interconnections necessary to enable large-scale usage of 5G. This includes new opportunities for minority contractors to join the supply chain. It also means entrepreneurs can secure new services for delivering products needed within their own supply chains.

Who could have known that 4G’s release would inspire new app-based jobs and services like ride-sharing? The consensus during our conference was that the potential for 5G looks to be even more transformational. As such, the National Black Chamber of Commerce would like to ensure that diverse businesses are ahead of the curve.

But there are challenges still before us. Let us address the situation known as “Digital Deserts” which are found in urban, underserved areas such as Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, etc. We cannot have ubiquitous deployment until we cover “all the bases”. According to the Benton Foundation: “Today, roughly 1.2 million households live in public housing units. Pew Research Center data suggests these low-income residents are more likely to rely on wireless access for Internet access, but the cinder blocks and cement walls that are common in public housing structures are often not conducive to good Internet access.