Editor: Speculation abounds over whether Amazon will bring its second headquarters to Arlington, reaching a fevered pitch after Amazon named Arlington one of its 20 finalists for “HQ2” in January.
Opportunities like HQ2 do not come around very often. For most jurisdictions, landing Amazon would be equivalent to grabbing the brass ring on the merry-go-round, bringing an estimated 50,000 high-paying jobs and $5 billion in new construction if it chose Arlington.
Arlington has many reasons to be optimistic about its chances. The county has some of the best schools in the country, a highly educated workforce, a major airport and plenty of available commercial office space located in the Metro corridors. Arlington’s economic-development team has leveraged Arlington’s attributes to attract major international corporations, most notably Nestlé, to the county in recent years.
Arlington also should score high marks on most if not all of Amazon’s announced selection criteria.
Unfortunately, despite Arlington’s ability to meet Amazon’s basic selection criteria and most of the optional criteria, Arlington is not likely to be one of Amazon’s finalists for one big reason: Its inability to provide 5G wireless-network technology.
Amazon’s request for proposal states that “optimal fiber connectivity is paramount at our HQ2 location.” 5G is important to Amazon because the United States experienced a 35-fold increase in mobile-data usage over the last eight years. The rapid surge in data usage is driven by our reliance on smartphones, the Internet of Things, the cloud and myriad activities that require a wireless connection.
Densely populated, tech-savvy urban areas like Arlington increasingly make do with an over-burdened network that was not designed to handle the massive amounts of data required to live and work in 2018. 5G has the ability to meet increasing data needs by installing a large quantity of smaller cell-infrastructure equipment in urban areas. 5G equipment can be installed on light poles, the sides of buildings and many other unconventional locations. The traditional way of increased coverage – by installing large cell towers to cover large population centers – does not work for 5G.
Network carriers currently are preparing to launch their 5G networks in select cities this year. In January, AT&T launched its 5G evolution program in 23 metro areas, including several of Amazon’s HQ2 finalists, but not the Washington area. T-Mobile announced its plans in February to deploy 5G in 30 cities in 2018 and 2019. D.C. and Arlington are not among them. Several carriers are offering free 5G trials in select cities, including Washington, but not in Arlington.
Why is Arlington, which historically has been a technology leader, not a part of the first wave of 5G networks? The reason is simple: The county government has been slow to embrace this new technology, which will transmit almost 70 times more data and be 10 times faster than 4G.
Arlington’s current dark-fiber network, ConnectArlington, while laudable, does not cover many parts of the county and is used primarily by county-government facilities.
In the past, the local government has taken a creative, visionary approach to solving complex problems. This time, it appears that the county government has decided to sit on its hands rather than taking a proactive attitude.
Amazon has made it clear that optimal fiber connectivity is paramount at its HQ2 headquarters. Other Virginia jurisdictions are embracing 5G technology, but presently, it is simply not a priority in Arlington.
Arlington leaders will have to decide whether to address the 5G challenge head on – or recognize that Amazon is not coming to Arlington.
Jonathan Kinney, Arlington