The Race for 5G: The Long Awaited Sequel to the Space Race
By Joseph M. Nelson
Tensions have been high between the United States and China since President Trump came into office. If you follow politics at a minimal level, you have likely heard of the trade war between the two world powers. But amidst the ongoing trade quarrel, lies a race: the race for 5G.
The race for 5G is real, and the race is on. As of now, our wireless capabilities only allow us to reach the 4G level.[i] 5G capability means a significant boost in mobile power that will surpass anything we have ever seen. Some projections believe mobile data could move up to 100 times faster. Former Congressman Mike Rogers, who is chairman of the 5G Action Now initiative, stated in a CNN op-ed that 5G is “not just about being able to download movies or music faster. It will fundamentally impact our country’s national and economic security and technological leadership.”[ii] But what does this have to do with the U.S. and China?
Huawei Technologies, headquartered in Shenzhen, China, is a Chinese multinational technological company spearheading China’s 5G campaign with the backing of lofty government subsidies. It creates telecommunications equipment and sells consumer electronics and smartphones. Arguably, they are the biggest threat to the United States in the race to achieve 5G capability. And currently, they are in the lead. “According to a 2018 Deloitte report, China has outspent the United States by roughly $24 billion in wireless communications infrastructure since 2015. This investment has allowed China to build approximately 12 times more 5G base stations than the United States.”[iii] However, even if China manages to get its network up and running quicker, the U.S. still has hope. Paul Triolo, the geo-technology practice head at Eurasia Group, believes that “[e]ven as China rolls out 5G a little faster, the U.S. will eventually roll out 5G in enough breadth and scope that the U.S. will be able to innovate on top of it.”[iv]
The United States government’s main concern with China putting out 5G first is that Huawei would control all 5G equipment worldwide. This would create a potential privacy risk where China could spy on American companies and citizens, as well as other countries.[v] Currently, Huawei operates in 170+ countries.[vi] However, Huaweu does not operate in the United States because it is on an Entity-List prohibiting it from doing business here.[vii] Huawei is active in the U.K., a longstanding ally, which could strain our relations and openness of communications.[viii] The U.S. Department of Justice simply does not trust Huawei and has been battling with them for years now. Despite the lack of any publicly available evidence of Huawei technology being used to spy on the U.S. or steal U.S. intellectual property, the U.S. will not stop its campaign against Huawei.[ix]
To stir things up further, the United States recently filed another federal indictment against Huawei. This indictment accuses Huawei of conspiring to steal intellectual property from six United States companies.[x] The companies are unnamed, but the allegations are serious. “Federal prosecutors said the new charges were related to a decades-long effort by Huawei and four of its subsidiaries, in both the U.S. and in China, to engage in racketeering activities aimed at building the company into one of the world’s most powerful telecoms equipment and consumer electronics concerns.”[xi] Because of this, Huawei was able to “obtain nonpublic intellectual property about robotics, cellular antenna technology[,] and internet router source code.”[xii] Huawei denies any wrongdoing, and it is unclear at this point whether the claims have any merit or if they are simply an attempt to slow down Huawei’s advancements with abstraction.
Essentially, the United States government has been adamant about preventing unfair business practices by Chinese companies, Huawei, especially.[xiii] They believe this is necessary to stop China from getting the advantage in technological evolution and, more specifically, 5G technology. It will be interesting to see how the indictment plays out, the effects it has on the 5G race, and who ultimately becomes the 5G champion.
[i] Ian Bremmer, The Quick Read About… the 5G War Is Upon Us, Time (May 24, 2019), https://time.com/5595161/the-quick-read-about-the-5g-war-is-upon-us/.
[ii] Mike Rogers, America can’t afford to lose to China in the 5G race, CNN (Jan. 24, 2020), https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/24/perspectives/america-china-5g-race/index.html.
[iv] Stella Soon, Here’s how the US can beat China in the race for dominance in next generation networks, CNBC (Dec. 25, 2019), https://www.cnbc.com/2019/11/26/5g-race-how-the-us-can-beat-china-in-the-competition-for-dominance.html.
[v] Charlie Kirk, China’s growing 5G dominance is a disaster for US security, The Hill (Feb. 3. 2020), https://thehill.com/opinion/technology/481123-chinas-growing-5g-dominance-is-a-disaster-for-us-security.
[vii] See Bremmer, supra note 1.
[viii] See Kirk, supra note 5.
[ix] Jodi Xu Klein, China clashes with US over new Huawei accusations of intellectual property theft and North Korea dealings, South China Morning Post (Feb. 15, 2020), https://www.scmp.com/tech/enterprises/article/3050756/huawei-denounces-new-us-allegations-intellectual-property-theft.