>> Julian E Barnes and David E Sanger, The New York Times
Published: 2019-04-14 00:35:51 BdST
Yet Trump has so far remained silent on whether the United States would issue an order essentially banning Chinese firms like Huawei from building those networks.
At the White House on Friday, Ajit Pai, the Federal Communications Commission chairman, announced the third, and largest, auction of spectrum that telecom companies will use to build “fifth generation,” or 5G, networks, which promise a major speed increase for downloading data over cellular networks.
Rolling out those networks, in both cities and rural areas, requires essentially rebuilding the nation’s cell networks and switching systems. Over time, the evolution to the new architecture promises to transform how billions of “internet of things” devices — such as autonomous cars and industrial sensors — operate, allowing faster, seamless connectivity.
The Trump administration sees this next generation of technology as critical to the United States’ ability to dominate industries of the future and power its long-term economic prospects. It views China’s ability to control these networks as a national security threat because it could, at least theoretically, give Beijing access to the information that flows across them.
“Secure 5G networks will absolutely be a vital link to America’s prosperity and national security in the 21st century,” Trump said Friday.
But Chinese telecommunications companies, like Huawei, are poised to dominate because they offer the most inexpensive, and what some European and Asian officials consider some of the best, equipment to provide the technical backbone of 5G networks. There are no American suppliers for the main switching networks, meaning that the American systems will largely be built by firms like Nokia and Ericsson, both European.
The administration has long been contemplating an executive order that would ban American telecom companies from using Huawei or other Chinese equipment when building 5G networks. But that executive order has not materialised, leading many officials and industry executives to believe the administration is holding back until the current trade negotiations with China are completed. Any move to bar Chinese firms from the United States could anger Chinese leadership.
It is possible that Trump will allow some Chinese access to the American market — despite national security concerns — in order to strike a trade deal with Xi Jinping, China’s president.
Even without the ban, the Trump administration has taken a hard line with allies, telling them that allowing Huawei to build and maintain 5G systems, even if they are operated by Western companies, could give Beijing an undetectable backdoor into wireless networks.
The fear is that the Chinese government will be able to suck up and copy data flowing over wireless networks, potentially compromising that information and, theoretically, putting trade secrets and military intelligence at risk. While much of that data is encrypted, giving Chinese firms control over the flow of data is considered a major risk by the Pentagon and intelligence agencies.
But to Trump, 5G is an election issue as much as a security issue. Speaking at the White House, surrounded by wireless company workers wearing cowboy hats and hard hats, Trump said the United States could not allow itself to be “outcompeted” in 5G networks.
“The race to 5G is a race America must win,” Trump said. “And it is a race frankly that our great companies are now involved in. We have given them the incentive they need. It is a race we will win.”
The Trump administration had considered a plan that would have created national 5G networks using federal money. Trump said Friday that that approach had been rejected and that private industry would build out the American 5G networks.
Trump made no mention of China or any Chinese companies like Huawei, though he did say 5G networks must be “guarded from the enemy — and we do have enemies out there.”
Trump also repeatedly said he would extend broadband access to rural America. “No matter where you are you will have access very quickly to 5G, and it will be a different life,” Trump said.
But critics of the administration’s approach said the technology the United States had embraced focused too much on the high-band spectrum, which will make it more difficult to deliver 5G service in rural America.
Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democratic appointee to the FCC, criticised the Trump administration’s 5G policy, saying it had done “more harm than good.”
“From imposing tariffs on 5G equipment to alienating allies on 5G security to falling behind the rest of the world on critical midband spectrum, it has yet to offer a workable plan for US leadership,” she said on Twitter.
The United States has auctioned other parts of the high-band electromagnetic spectrum to firms that need to communicate to a new generation of mobile phones and internet-of-things devices.
Some experts think the United States should focus more on developing on midband, not high-band, spectrum. High-band allows more data, but has a much smaller range, meaning providers must build far more 5G towers. It also means a 5G system based on high-band spectrum is harder to build in rural areas.
Other parts of the world, especially in Asia, have focused their 5G development on midband spectrum, which covers a broader area although with less capacity.
“It’s essential that we pivot to midband right now because the rest of the world could leave us behind,” Rosenworcel said in an interview. “This is the spectrum that is most likely to bring 5G service to rural parts of this country, and we need to think about investing in this now and not later.”