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CTIA CEO Meredith Attwell Baker / CTIA

Mobile World Congress Americas kicks off today in San Francisco, and on the docket is plenty of talk about 5G technology and how it will power the Internet of Things, mobile entertainment and connected cars. Ahead of the show, Axios caught up with Meredith Attwell Baker, former Commerce Department official and FCC Commissioner who is now the wireless industry's chief lobbyist in Washington.

Why it matters: The wireless industry can't seem to get it's hands on enough airwaves to power networks to handle demand by smartphone-obsessed consumers. Wireless streaming and other content-rich applications are only increasing the competition for bandwidth. 5G networks take advantage of high-frequency airwaves that don't travel as far, raising the need for twice as many cell sites to power them.

Highlights from our chat:

5G networks will be 100 times faster with no lag time: "This is the network where you will see driverless cars, remote surgery and innovative education. In terms of capital spending, our members (carriers) are ready to spend $275 billion to invest in this."

Timing of 5G network rollouts: "It will start rolling out next year, but we'll see more commercial rollouts in 2020. But that depends on getting the rules right for these networks. We're talking about cell sites the size of pizza boxes rather than 200-foot-tall towers. The industry in the past decade has rolled out 150,000 towers, and we'll be looking to roll out 300,000 in the next few years. What we're looking for is changes in infrastructure so we can roll this out faster and at an affordable cost."

International threats to U.S. leadership: "It's certainly a global race to 5G. Countries have recognized that when you are first, that gives you the advantage in innovation and investment and jobs. China is conducting 100 trials this year. South Korea and Japan are rolling out quite rapidly. We did not win the race to 3G, but we did to 4G. And that's why three-quarters of app companies are based in the U.S. So it does make a difference."

How 5G can improve rural broadband coverage: "We'll see fixed 5G wireless first. That will bring a lot of broadband to rural areas that don't have it currently."

What's next in the spectrum pipeline: "There's no pipeline. We are looking for low-band, mid-band and high-band opportunities. We need to look for win-win scenarios with government spectrum. We are encouraged to see the administration has spectrum in its budget and plans."

What about unlicensed spectrum, such as white space proposals?: "When it comes to spectrum, I talk about licensed, unlicensed and shared. To meet America's growing needs we're going to need all of it."

Go deeper

Updated 3 hours ago - Sports

Swimmer Chase Kalisz first American to win Olympics gold medal

Chase Kalisz of Team United States celebrates after winning the Men's 400m Individual Medley Final on day two of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre in Tokyo, Japan. Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images

Swimmer Chase Kalisz became on Sunday the first Team USA Olympian to win gold at the Tokyo Games.

The big picture: The Rio 2016 silver medalist's winning time in the men's 400 meters Individual Medley Final was 4 minutes 9.42 seconds. His teammate Jay Litherland took silver .86 seconds later.

California's largest wildfire razes homes as 88 huge blazes burn in U.S.

Firefighters on the scene as dozens of homes burn during the Dixie Fire in the Indian Falls neighborhood of unincorporated Plumas County, California, on July 24. Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images

Flames from California's biggest wildfire were engulfing homes in the state's north overnight — one of 88 large blazes raging in the U.S.

Driving the news: The Dixie Fire, which erupted July 14 near the origin of the deadly 2018 Camp Fire in Butte County, was tearing through the community of Indian Falls in the neighboring Plumas County, per AP.

Golfer Bryson DeChambeau will miss Olympics after testing positive for COVID

Bryson DeChambeau of the United States on the 18th tee during Day Two of the 149th Open at Royal St George’s Golf Club on July 16 in Sandwich, England. Photo: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Bryson DeChambeau has tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss the Tokyo Olympic Games, USA Golf announced late Saturday.

What he's saying: "I am deeply disappointed not to be able to compete in the Olympics for Team USA," DeChambeau said in a statement.