The past few weeks have been eventful for wireless research, showing how new advances in mobile communication, one of the fundamental building blocks for so much technology today, have to be driven by both the grassroots and policymakers to be successful.
Just before the new year, 3GPP in Lisbon — the standards-setting body that drives cellular wireless — successfully completed the first 5G specification. That work brought together dozens of companies and included the efforts of our team of researchers at InterDigital, including one who chaired one of the most important sub-committees. For them and all our engineers, it was a significant milestone after many years of advanced research. Those are the grassroots of wireless innovation.
Meanwhile in the U.S., President Trump released his national security strategy, outlining ways to protect Americans domestically and internationally but also highlighting opportunities to help secure our future. Among plans to expand our energy infrastructure, enhance American trade competitiveness, and boost education and apprenticeship programs was another important priority — working to “improve America’s digital infrastructure by deploying a secure 5G Internet capability nationwide.”
To some political commentators, this was a surprise. But to the innovators hard at work to make this technology possible, it means that the folks at the top are listening to us and beginning to realize the possibilities that a full-scale 5G network offers. It is perhaps even more promising that Trump recognizes this as a part of his transformational plan to revitalize American infrastructure.
Large or small, and whether rooted in “traditional” or “new” industries, any city can reap the benefits of the Internet of Things through future-focused planning, and a federal commitment to implementing 5G technology that will be central to the robust adoption of the Internet of Things, means our policymakers are already planning for the future. This means cities will soon be able to use data to improve traffic, boost sustainability and energy efficiency, and assess environmental and air quality data in real time. A study released last week by ABI Research and sponsored by my company outlined the potential cost savings to be had: over $5 trillion annually by 2022 can be saved by enterprises, governments and citizens globally through the use of smart city technology.
But to achieve Trump’s goal of implementing a nationwide 5G network, we must support the innovators who are developing this revolutionary technology.
It takes millions of hours of research and development by scientists at universities, governments and private companies around the world to develop technologies like Wi-Fi, 4G LTE/5G and the Internet of Things. We at InterDigital routinely seek out the best and the brightest to find the best solutions to achieve the next generation of wireless communication standards. The United States already has jumpstarted some important initiatives: US Ignite with their Smart Gigabit Communities program, as well as the Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research that helps coordinate public-private partnerships to serve as testbeds for 5G/IoT technology. With those initiatives and the work of companies like us and university researchers, we are laying the foundation and policies needed to achieve truly smart cities.
These initiatives are important, but the most important areas of support from the top — from the Trump administration and congressional lawmakers — have less to do with technology initiatives, and more to do with promoting a healthy ecosystem for research and development.
The most important is preserving the incentive for companies like InterDigital to continue pioneering this research. Companies that work to develop wireless standards depend on robust intellectual property protections to preserve their hard work and ensure that innovators are properly compensated. Without assurances that successful research and development will be compensated, innovation will suffer and technological progress will slow. Conversely, when companies see the potential for financial reward in research, they pour investment and their best people into the mix. Gil Amelio, a former member of our board and past CEO of numerous technology leaders including Apple, captured this brilliantly a few months ago.
Finally, an America-first innovation policy must provide access to the global pool of talent. While it is important to protect U.S. workers and promote policies that enhance STEM education, America’s innovative companies have to attract and retain the best and brightest from around the world to ensure our standing as the global center for innovation. Without immigration policies that allow international students at U.S. universities to utilize their talents in America, and without a way to bring talent from abroad, we risk allowing that talent to foster competing companies abroad that would ultimately harm U.S. innovators.
Overall, Trump’s national security strategy offers significant promise for smart city infrastructure, next-generation wireless communications, and a robust private innovation sector that works collaboratively with the federal government. And through continued collaboration and communication, together we can create smart technology that benefits every city and citizen in America.
William J. Merritt is President and CEO of InterDigital, a mobile technology company that designs and develops advanced technologies that enable and enhance mobile communications and capabilities. Chordant is InterDigital’s Smart City-focused IoT business.
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