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The latest generation of wireless networks, called 5G (for "fifth generation"), has launched with great expectations and amid significant concerns. A theme running through discussions of the 5G era is that this is a race, that first movers will dominate all others, and that this dominance will provide enduring economic and technical benefits to those first movers' home countries and populations. Influential leaders from government and industry have argued that leadership in wireless communication is a crucial determinant of the country's economic success in the mobile technology era. The White House has made the case that leadership in wireless technology helps nations "win" in the information age.

This Perspective serves as a policy primer for the 5G era and summarizes our observations from the RAND-Initiated Research project titled "America's 5G Era: Securing Its Advantages and Ourselves." As the authors assessed the 5G wireless ecosystem, they began to see the development of its markets and technologies as an enduring competition rather than a "race." A key observation is that past technical or market leadership does not guarantee a lasting advantage. The authors also highlight important implications of 5G-era devices, networks, and services for securing data and protecting individual privacy.

Funding for this research was made possible by the independent research and development provisions of RAND's contracts for the operation of its U.S. Department of Defense federally funded research and development centers. This research was conducted within the Acquisition and Development Program of the RAND Homeland Security Research Division (HSRD).

This commentary is part of the RAND expert insight series. RAND Expert Insights present perspectives on timely policy issues. All RAND Expert Insights undergo peer review to ensure high standards for quality and objectivity.

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