US wireless carriers have already started working to build 5G networks which will deliver high-speed mobile broadband to devices including phones, automobiles, and millions of other “Internet of Things” devices in the coming years.
But it looks like they’re not the only ones thinking about building out a nationwide 5G network. According to a report from Axios, Trump administration officials are considering building a national 5G network.
Update: Apparently the Axios report was based on an outdated document. Recode reached out to White House officials who say that it was also just an idea that “had merely been floated by a staff members, not a reflection of some imminent major policy announcement.” That said, it sounds like FCC chairman FCC took the idea seriously enough to issue a statement on the matter (see below).
Our original article continues below.
There are actually a few different proposals: one would involve the US government building the wireless network, while the other involves something a bit closer to the status quo, where private companies such as AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint build their own networks that compete with one another. But the goal is the same: to build a national 5G network in the United States to protect against China. The proposals are apparently coming from president Trump’s national security team.
Honestly, the Axios report is a bit vague about how a 5G network is supposed to protect US interests, but if I’m reading it correctly the idea is that China is a dominant player in two fields:
- Manufacturing and operating network infrastructure
- Cyber spying
So the idea is to build a network free from Chinese influence to ensure, among other things, that there are no backdoors that can be used to access phones, self-driving cars, and other connected devices.
Of course, it’s far from clear that the US government is any more equipped o keep Chinese hackers out of its network than any other developer of networking equipment and infrastructure. But I suppose if you accept the premise that Chinese products are inherently riskier, then I suppose not using them is a starting point.
There are a few ways things could play out.
The government could build a national 5G network and lease it to wireless networks. (One unintended upshot here might be that you eventually wouldn’t have phones that can work on Verizon’s network but not AT&T’s, or vice versa).
The company could also build the national network but also leave spectrum open to private companies that could build their own networks… although they probably wouldn’t be too happy about competing with a government-owned network.
Or the US government could opt for plan B, which would allow private companies to build their own networks and compete with one another. This would reportedly take longer, but cause less commercial disruption to the industry.
Not surprisingly, the government-run option doesn’t sit well with free market types… like Trump-appointed FCC chairman Ajit Pai, who has released a statement opposing the creation of a government-run 5G network.