Just the Facts

Five Facts on the Race to Control 5G Networks

By Emma Petasis
February 26, 2019 | Blog

In the coming century, many of the most dangerous national security threats will stem from cyber-attacks. The United States and China are currently engaged in a race to corner the nascent 5G network industry, one of the most important factors in the brewing technological battlefield. Here are five facts on the race to control 5G networks. 

5G refers to the fifth generation of telecommunication networks and is expected to revolutionize technologies ranging from smartphones to robotic medicine.

According to CNN Business, 5G is primarily about three things: Faster speeds, faster connections and faster access to the cloud. This means that your smartphone’s network connection could become 100 times faster than what is currently available on the 4G network, allowing you to download a 3-D movie in three seconds, as opposed to six minutes; but it also carries important significance in areas such as transportation and medicine. The faster speeds will allow self-driving cars to process all the information needed to make split-second decisions, and will usher in the next generation of robotic surgery, which requires robots to interact with their networks with zero lag time.

There is a global race to lead the transition to 5G.

The United States and China are currently engaged in a high-stakes competition for technological superiority in the 21st century, and 5G is sure to play an integral role. The struggle for superiority has also pitted major American telecommunications companies, such as Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile, against Chinese companies such as Huawei. The implications range from capitalizing on what is likely to be one of the most lucrative industries in the coming decades, as more and more devices, such as home appliances and cars, are connected to the internet, to which country controls highly sensitive communication networks around the world.

Thus far, China and Huawei have out competed their American counterparts.

Huawei is the second largest smartphone maker behind Samsung and is the global leader when it comes to telecom equipment, the hardware found in cell towers and internet networks that will be required to implement 5G throughout the world. According to Jaroslav Roman, a Czech Communist Party official familiar with Huawei’s importance due to the company’s massive influence in the Czech Republic, “the Chinese believe they are one to two years ahead of everyone,” when it comes to implementing 5G, and have been working to cement their advantage in countries throughout the world.  According to a report compiled by the consultancy company Deloitte, China has outspent the U.S. on 5G related investments by $24 billion since 2015 and has built 350,000 new cell towers, while the U.S. has built just 30,000. 

Vice President Mike Pence has led the effort to curb Chinese influence in the 5G revolution and give American companies an edge.

The United States is deeply concerned about Huawei’s potential influence. Much of this apprehension stems from a Chinese law that requires organizations and citizens to cooperate in intelligence gathering on behalf of the state. So, if a network is controlled by Huawei, it is entirely possible the Chinese government could have access to any information shared over that network. This becomes increasingly dangerous if Huawei, for example, set up the telecommunications network for a country’s government, as it could open the door to high-level security breaches. Top American officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, have spoken out forcefully against Huawei. In a recent speech delivered in Munich, Pence warned that “Chinese law requires them to provide Beijing’s vast security apparatus with access to any data that touches their networks or equipment,” adding, “the United States is calling on all our security partners to be vigilant and to reject any enterprise that would compromise the integrity of our communications technology or national security systems.”

It remains unclear if America’s allies will follow its lead in boycotting Huawei.

While Huawei has been essentially shut out of all U.S. markets after a 2012 congressional report designated the company as a national-security threat, it has continued to expand aggressively in key western European countries, such as the U.K., Germany, and France. In a recent blow, the French Senate rejected proposed legislation designed to toughen regulation on telecoms equipment, stressing that lawmakers had not had enough time to review the provision. While the idea of increased regulation enjoys the support of French President Emmanuel Macron, the initial defeat means it will likely take months before a similar bill can be voted on again. In Germany, a recent probe by the country’s cybersecurity agency showed that Huawei could not use its equipment to spy on German communications, and the U.K. intelligence service reportedly has concluded that it could effectively limit the risk of using Huawei’s technology. 

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