Metal is the essential material of our time—and at the heart of rebuilding America’s aging infrastructure. Part one in this four-part series explores its role in the advent of a 5G network.

Work-from-home, remote learning, telehealth, high-definition video—as the demands of a connected world continually accelerate, the investment to modernize the existing communications infrastructure cannot be stuck in neutral.

$275 billion. That is the amount that America's wireless companies stand ready to invest into building next generation 5G networks, according to wireless communications trade organization CTIA. With the promise of a faster, more responsive network that can connect more devices, 5G could be, according to some estimates, the catalyst to $1.5 trillion in GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and 4.5 million jobs across the nation.

Access to high-speed communications has become table stakes for every business and government organization to compete these days—and that requires ubiquitous coverage nationwide.

But there is a hitch—more than 20 million Americans currently lack access to broadband internet, according to The Federal Communications Commission. This map from the FCC breaks it down by region.

The bottom line is that every American needs to be able connect to the internet. Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group on key policies, likens this need to to the country’s commitment to rural electrification in the 1930s.

So, where does metal matter in this discussion? It’s present in everything from the semiconductors that power smart services to the copper and silver that make up the routers, lines, and towers.

  • Copper is used in wiring for local area networks (LAN), modems and routers. 5G deployment should involve a lot of fiber and copper cable to connect equipment.
  • Silver, according to the Silver Institute, will be a necessary component in almost all aspects of 5G technology. At present, 5G-related silver demand is approximately 7.5 million ounces (Moz). Rollout of 5G in the coming years, however, could push demand to roughly 16 Moz by 2025 and 23 Moz by 2030.
  • Aluminum, while not as common as copper, can also be used for cables. This common alloy contains small percentages of iron and cobalt, which can increase the strength of the cable but often reduces the conductivity, thus why copper is preferred.
  • Stainless steel, while note largely prevalent in the infrastructure, is vital in products that will be powered by a 5G network, most notably nickel used in electric vehicle batteries.


A here is a breakdown as to where all that metal may go: