Recently, several people have asked me how Tom Whitehead's work at the White House and the break up of the AT&T phone monopoly has led to 5G and beyond technologies. This is a good question and one that is easily answered by a quick look back.
Following the AT&T Consent Decree that was reached by the U.S. Department of Justice and AT&T, for the first time, competition in the long distance marketplace began. While some experts believe that the break-up harmed innovation by limiting the future of Bell Labs, this argument is overblown. While Bell Labs was a great research arm, they were still part of a monopoly and to some extent shared that mindset, which, at times, limited the introduction of technologies. This is demonstrated by the early development of the cell phone by Bell Labs in the 1940s but by AT&T failing to further develop and bring this service to market at that time. Something that did not change for about 40 years later at the hand's of a competitor.
On the other hand, the AT&T break-up and the limits placed on wireless services by the former monopoly, enabled competitors to develop and enter the market place. In addition, the competitive long distance market place paved the way to reduce cellular backhaul costs, which were critical to provide reasonable cellular phone service. This has led to a highly innovative and competitive marketplace for wireless communications. Similarly, without divestiture, we may not have seen the success of the dial-up ISPs that relied on telephone lines to function because of the high-cost to access and use the phone network. Additionally, an AT&T monopoly would have likely been able to fend off and maybe block cable company broadband networks and others.
Since the internet and wireless services are the baseline required for 5G and beyond, it was critical to have given both the freedom to deliver sufficiently to spur innovation in the telecom marketplace. The divestiture of AT&T set the stage for this success leading to the development of 5G and beyond.