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Illustration: Sarah Grillo, Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Tech companies see the transition to 5G as an opportunity to gain new footholds in the connectivity business that's dominated by major wireless providers.

Why it matters: For consumers, 5G will likely be a collection of technologies rather than one single technical solution. For industry, that means fighting over who gets what airwaves and under which conditions.

The big picture: Google and Microsoft, for example, are trying to cobble together new hybrids of different types of airwaves to make their own plays.

  • Unlicensed spectrum — like Wi-Fi, that is open to all users rather than leased to a single company — will be a large part of the 5G equation and is especially attractive to companies like Facebook, Apple and Google. (But unlicensed airwaves can be hampered by interference.)
  • Licensed spectrum is leased to a single company and makes up the bulk of cellular connections provided by AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint.
  • Qualcomm and Broadcom, who both have a stake in the broad adoption of 5G devices, have argued the importance of unlicensed and shared airwaves.

Several bands of airwaves could be utilized either as a shared, licensed resource or without a license:

  • That includes the so-called Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) airwaves, where priority access licenses would be issued to some users before it gets opened up to a wider group.
  • The C-band — 3.7 MHz to 4.2 MHz — that the FCC is currently considering how to use. Google has been pushing for a system that would allow sharing in this band.
  • The 6 GHz band of spectrum, which Facebook, Google and Apple say could be opened up to unlicensed use. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has said it will look to take action on this band.

5G could open new technical solutions, too. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai told Axios he thinks AI could enable real-time spectrum swaps between companies.

  • For example, a delivery startup may ask a wireless company for permission to use a small sliver of its airwaves for an hour to deliver a package — without having to spend millions of dollars to lease the spectrum outright.
"I think there could be some interesting ways AI and machine learning could facilitate transactions that end up benefiting consumers who need these services regardless of what kind of company they're relying on. "
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai

The bottom line: 5G will depend on a patchwork of spectrum. Decisions made in Washington will shape what that looks like, and which companies come out on top.

  • "If we assume demands on our airwaves continue to grow at breakneck pace, now is the time to explore new sharing paradigms that can make it possible to have a whole range of activities in a single spectrum band, " said FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel earlier this month.

What's next: This fall the FCC will auction off a lot of high-frequency airwaves to the highest bidders.

Go deeper: How to get from our 4G reality to the 5G future

Go deeper

Updated 19 mins ago - Energy & Environment

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Satellite imagery of the Northeastern U.S. taken by NOAA on Jan. 17. Photo: NOAA

A major winter storm lashed much of the East Coast Sunday and Monday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The latest: Authorities in North Carolina confirmed that two people died in a car crash and that they responded 600 vehicle accidents during the storm on Sunday, per the Washington Post.

CDC director says COVID-19 messaging should have been clearer

Rochelle Walensky. Photo: Stefani Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that the messaging around the COVID-19 pandemic and changing guidance should have been clearer.

State of play: Walensky is being coached by media experts and is planning to have more press briefings by herself in order to ensure that CDC is seen as an independent, scientific entity, rather than as a political one, the Journal reports.

1 hour ago - World

UAE asks U.S. to reinstate Houthi terrorist designation after attack

Secretary of State Tony Blinken (left) listens to United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan during a joint news conference at the State Department iin October. Photo: Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah Bin Zayed asked Secretary of State Tony Blinken in a phone call Monday to re-designate the Houthi rebels in Yemen as a terrorist organization, a senior Emirati official told Axios.

Why it matters: Less than a month after he assumed office, President Biden rolled back the Trump administration’s decision to make the designation. He said it hampered humanitarian assistance to the Yemeni people. Since then, the Houthis have escalated their attacks against Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region — including an attack Monday in Abu Dhabi.