How a National 5G Network Idea Materialized in Trump White House

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How a National 5G Network Idea Materialized in Trump White House

The race to be the top 5G network provider in the U.S. is on among the country’s biggest carriers. But private wireless service providers were blindsided by recently leaked national security document that floats the idea of building a secure national 5G work. The document, obtained by U.S. news website Axios, indicates that President Donald Trump’s national security advisers has proposed building a secure national 5G network to ward off Chinese cyber-attacks. However, soon after the news broke, critics that included Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai and top executives with private sector wireless service providers derided the proposal as an impractical and even irresponsible idea. This slide show will discuss what implications a national 5G network to the ongoing development of private sector services.

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A 5G Primer

Over the past few years, industry watchers have been working on the development of Fifth Generation wireless protocol technology specification, called simply 5G. When the technology is deployed it will support higher capacity data transmission to accommodate a broader set of devices and services.  Most importantly, it will deliver speeds at 1Gbps which promises to reduce transmission latency over a network to about 4ms. That will ensure connected devices, including self-driving cars, will be able to communicate with each other far more quickly than currently possible and support a host of technical advances.

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What the Private Sector Is Doing to Implement 5G

To ensure people across the globe will be able to take advantage of 5G, the wireless industry is working to agree on specifications for hardware and software to get the technology up and running. Wireless service providers can start building their networks until the specifications are approved.

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Documents Float Idea of a U.S. National 5G Network

Axios made waves on Jan. 28, when it revealed that it had obtained “sensitive” national security documents detailing a plan for nationalizing a 5G network in the U.S. The documents, which were apparently pitched to President Donald Trump, detail how the U.S. government could create its own 5G network that carriers would license from the government to provide service to Americans. The network would be a standalone service outside of all the other 5G networks around the world.

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Government Fears Chinese Cyber-Spying

According to Axios, national security officials were driven to propose the network over fears about hacking by China. In the document, the officials said that they were concerned with China’s rapid development of 5G network technology and the possibility of the country spying on America through Chinese-manufactured U.S. telecom infrastructure. By nationalizing 5G networks, the documents reasoned, China could be kept out of the equation and the U.S. secured.

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Security Officials Worry About Chinese Advances in AI, Algorithms

Oddly, the documents also said that China’s advances in artificial intelligence might also be a reason to develop a national 5G network. According to Axios, the national security officials wrote that China is leading the “algorithm battles.” They feared that not having a government-controlled 5G network would leave the U.S. far behind China in the broader use of artificial intelligence around the world. Exactly how that would happen wasn’t clear from the documents.

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The Problem with Going It Alone

Although in theory, a national 5G network could appeal to those who are seeking a more secure national wireless network, in practice it might not go so well. That’s because 5G is a set of standards and not an actual network. Those standards are agreed upon by organizations and companies around the globe and everyone generally plays by the rules. By creating an entirely different network with different equipment, the U.S. would have what amounts to a unique network in a world where uniqueness only increases costs and can limit device availability. None of this would appeal to U.S. wireless service providers, handset makers or the people and businesses that are eager to get access to 5G.

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Government Control of 5G a Terrible Idea, Internet Advocates Say

Internet advocates are not thrilled by the idea. They argue that it couldn’t work and that it would give the U.S. government far too much control over Internet access. They also worry about privacy and how it would work in an industry that has been allowed to operate independently for decades to build out access to the Web. Perhaps most importantly, they question whether U.S. progress would be stunted by such a major endeavor and ultimately put the country behind China, Korea, Japan, and other countries that are moving forward with developing global 5G connectivity.

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The FCC Says It’s a Bad Idea

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) made it clear on Jan. 29 that it wouldn’t support the proposal. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said that a government-backed 5G development program “would be a costly and counterproductive distraction from the policies we need to help the United States win the 5G future.” Considering how important the FCC’s role is in implementing 5G technology, its vocal opposition doesn’t bode well for the idea.

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White House Denies It Seriously Considered the Idea

After the Axios report was published, Recode said that it had discussed the matter with White House sources who said that the document was old. Those sources went on to say that while the idea was floated, the Administration quickly threw water on it and has no intention of building a nationalized 5G network.

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A Look Ahead to 5G

So, where does 5G go from here? This year, major carriers, including Verizon and AT&T, will continue to test the technology, with hopes of deploying pilot projects in several cities by year’s end. Testing will continue through 2019 and most industry expects believe the first group of 5G devices and services will launch in 2020. For now, a nationalized 5G network seems highly unlikely, which should make major U.S. carriers breathe a sigh of relief.

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