5G Developments: From Rollout to Regulation


After years of development, 5G technology is now gradually being rolled out around the globe. This past April, Verizon launched limited 5G networks in parts of Chicago and a few other locations. That same month, AT&T announced that it was expanding its 5G rollout, bringing its total to almost twenty cities across the nation.

Upgrading to 5G has become a worldwide race. For instance, in China, ZTE has just released the Axon 10 Pro 5G, the first 5G phone in the country, which will be rolled out across China this October. The cellular industry anticipates that this type of technology will meet the throughput and bandwidth needs that are expected in the years ahead, especially when considering the high number of devices expected to be connected to the internet, including phones, laptops, computers, home appliances, cars, and many others. Industry experts estimate that there will be close to 21 billion internet-connected devices by 2020, three times higher than there were in 2016.

The use of 5G technology has the potential to affect many industries. For instance, it can provide connectivity to autonomous vehicles that need to communicate with each other and remote servers with virtually zero delay. 5G will also impact the ever-growing Internet-of-Things, virtual and augmented reality, and cloud computing. Further, 5G technology will have a big impact on healthcare delivery, particularly for the delivery of critical care treatment in rural communities, as 5G connectivity will enable caregivers in remote areas to receive real-time instruction and guidance from the best doctors around the world. Even remote robotic surgery may be enabled by 5G.

Because of the potential 5G brings, there is currently a large 5G patent race. For companies, holding the most 5G-related patents, especially 5G standard-essential patents, will likely position them to become leaders in a variety of sectors. The platform IPlytics has been attempting to track the 5G patent race across the globe and illustrates how it has evolved over the past five years. In 2015 and 2016, there were 2,055 and 2,053 5G standard-essential patents, respectively. That number rose to 11,662 in 2017 and nearly quintupled to 53,935 last year.

The importance of 5G, and the vast investment in 5G technology, will likely lead to litigation, from patent cases to standards and regulatory compliance issues. Data security and data privacy will also be concerns given the vast amounts of data expected to travel over 5G networks.

Companies in the 5G space will also experience a number of new regulations. For instance, in March the Secure 5G and Beyond Act was sponsored in the Senate by a bipartisan group. The wide-ranging bill focuses on securing both 5G technology and infrastructure and seeks to put restrictions on what previously was a sector with relatively light regulation. Additionally, the FCC has become involved in 5G, putting forth a set of rules that minimize the role of cities in regulating the technology. As 5G coverage continues to expand, there are likely to be more state and federal regulations that companies will need to navigate, whether it relates to privacy or infrastructure.

In sum, 5G will bring a unique set of legal and regulatory challenges. Our Fish team will be closely monitoring 5G developments and providing updates as the 5G legal landscape unfolds.

Authors: Phillip W. Goter, Joseph A. Herriges