Wireless industry ties 5G to surge in jobs, GDP

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BOSTON (SHNS) – The expansion of 5G wireless service could be an economic engine, translating to more than a trillion dollars in gross domestic product growth and 4.5 million jobs across the country, including more than 100,000 in Massachusetts, an industry representative said Thursday.

“This is sort of the next frontier of wireless service,” said Kelly Cole of CTIA, a trade association representing the wireless communications industry. “And what is 5G at the end of the day? You know, I try to explain it as it’s going to be a product that’s 100 times faster than 4G services. It will allow 100 times more devices on networks, and it will be five times more responsive than current services that you get today on 4G platforms.”

Speaking during a New England Council panel discussion on 5G and broadband infrastructure, Cole said 5G presents “huge opportunities” for health care and energy and could “open up brand new worlds of manufacturing and transportation.”

Cole said wireless services are “going to touch so many parts of our economy,” and that 5G could drive $1.5 trillion in GDP growth and millions of jobs nationally, including 108,000 in Massachusetts, 40,000 in Connecticut and 14,000 in New Hampshire.

The surge in remote work, schooling and socialization during the COVID-19 pandemic — and the corresponding importance of being able to access things like health care and government services online — forced new attention to issues around connectivity, including questions of access, cost and digital literacy.

In Congress, a bipartisan infrastructure plan backed by President Biden includes $65 billion for broadband. Running into Republican opposition, that bill failed a procedural vote Wednesday in the Senate, and Biden said he believes the Senate on Monday will vote to proceed with debate.

At the end of the process, Cole said, she hopes Congress produces a “bipartisan bill that reflects everybody’s interests in broadband that ultimately is technology-neutral and does provide broadband services to 100 percent of Americans.”

Verizon’s Nia Mathis said she wants to see Congress “lay the groundwork for getting to 100 percent connectivity for all Americans,” through a combination of technologies.

OpenCape CEO Steven Johnston said he hopes a final bill will “make sure that all the players are included, but with special attention paid to local, smaller providers that are on the ground that can do things immediately with the money versus having them get sucked up and we don’t know what happens to it.”

Comcast’s John Sutich said that officials should look back toward the lessons learned from a past stimulus package, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. One of those takeaways, he said, is that adoption of broadband, not just access to the technology, “absolutely has to be” part of the focus.

“As more and more people get access to a broadband network, the focus needs to be on the reasons why residents may not be using a network, whether it’s economic insecurity, housing insecurity or the such,” he said.

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