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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

Mike Allen, author of AM
29 mins ago - Economy & Business

America on borrowed time

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Economic recovery will not be linear as the world continues to grapple with the uncertainty of the pandemic.

Why it matters: Despite being propped up by an extraordinary amount of fiscal stimulus and support from central banks, the state of the global economy remains fragile.

Scoop: Gina Haspel threatened to resign over plan to install Kash Patel as CIA deputy

CIA Director Gina Haspel. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

CIA Director Gina Haspel threatened to resign in early December after President Trump cooked up a hasty plan to install loyalist Kash Patel, a former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), as her deputy, according to three senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the matter.

Why it matters: The revelation stunned national security officials and almost blew up the leadership of the world's most powerful spy agency. Only a series of coincidences — and last minute interventions from Vice President Mike Pence and White House counsel Pat Cipollone — stopped it.

Updated 13 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus deaths reach 4,000 per day as hospitals remain in crisis mode — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Biden says, "We will manage the hell out of" vaccine distribution — Biden taps ex-FDA chief to lead Operation Warp Speed amid rollout of COVID plan — Widow of GOP congressman-elect who died of COVID-19 will run to fill his seat.
  3. Vaccine: Battling Black mistrust of the vaccines"Pharmacy deserts" could become vaccine deserts — Instacart to give $25 to shoppers who get vaccine.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode againFed chair: No interest rate hike coming any time soon —  Inflation rose more than expected in December.
  5. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.