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Who’s winning the 5G race?

By Ahiza Garcia, CNN Business Updated 9:41 AM ET, Tue April 2, 2019

San Francisco (CNN Business) 5G, the next generation of ultra-fast wireless connections, is coming this year, and the United States is one of the countries leading the way.

The United States and China are tied for first place in 5G readiness, according to a new report released Tuesday by the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA), which represents the US wireless communications industry.

That’s a dramatic increase from a year ago when the US was trailing behind China and South Korea, according to the CTIA.

“5G is the platform for tomorrow’s economy,” said Meredith Attwell Baker, CEO and president of the CTIA. “It’s going to transform everything from education to AI to medicine, and the industry is so competitive because of that.”

The CTIA report attributes the improvement over last year to investment from the wireless industry as a whole and the work of US policymakers to make the process of updating networks faster. Being ready for 5G means building the required infrastructure, and testing and launching early networks in key locations.

The report supports AT&T chief Randall Stephenson’s recent claim that China isn’t beating the US on 5G. AT&T owns CNN’s parent company WarnerMedia.

Despite concerns from the Trump administration and policymakers that China is beating the US, Stephenson said at an event in Washington in late March that he isn’t convinced that’s the case.

“China is going to commit to this. They have said that this is a major focus of theirs from an economic development standpoint and a security standpoint,” Stephenson said.

But he noted that AT&T (T) has launched 5G in over a dozen markets, while Chinese 5G networks are still in trial stages. Verizon (VZ) has also announced the launch of 5G in several US cities.

The CTIA report showed that these launches are paying off — the US leads the world with the most commercial deployments. 5G is expected to be in 92 US cities by the end of the year.

Although 5G readiness is important, most consumers will still have to wait a while before they’re able to access a speedy 5G connection. That’s because there isn’t currently a smartphone on the market that can work on what exists of the 5G network. Samsung announced plans for a new 5G smartphone, which will go on sale soon.

Baker said 5G is rolling out much faster than she anticipated, but added that the US still needs to continue to embrace the move toward 5G to avoid falling behind.

She’s confident the United States will come out ahead in the race to roll out 5G, but nationwide adoption won’t necessarily mean the United States has won. When 4G was launched, it allowed for companies like Uber and Lyft to function. With 5G, a win will come about when companies are able to use the technology to innovate. Countries aren’t just competing for the sake of having the first 5G network. Lightning fast wireless speeds could lead to more innovations across a variety of fields, and boost local economies.

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