US President Donald Trump’s plan for 5G network is misguided and counterproductive
The US tech sector is famous for being competitive and for its free flow of ideas and talent, free of government interference. The president’s plan for a government-owned network could undermine all that and work to America’s disadvantage. That may benefit China in the end.
The Trump White House seems to see threats everywhere from China. The latest is 5G technology, the wonder telecommunications platform that is expected to provide not only faster connectivity and ubiquitous coverage, but support for driverless cars, transport systems, cloud computing, and uses and businesses yet to be developed or even imagined. US companies have already spent billions developing the technology and buying up broadcast airwaves spectrum to launch such networks.
Then thunder strikes. President Donald Trump’s national security team has drawn up a blueprint to build a nationwide, government-owned 5G network to counter Chinese advances in the development of the technology, including alleged spying and commercial advantages.
The whole plan is misguided and counterproductive, especially for American companies and consumers. Thankfully, it is still at an early stage. A senior official on the White House team said it would take six to eight months before it could be presented to Trump for consideration. One can only hope wiser heads will prevail.
In his first state-of-the-union address, the US President declared loudly that “the era of economic surrender is over”.
While the critical reference was ostensibly made to multiple major trading partners of the US, China was the leading target. There are ominous signs. Huawei and ZTE, which lead the development and commercialisation of 5G-related technologies on the mainland, have recently been shut out of lucrative carrier network deals in the US because of security worries. Trump’s speech also came just days after steep tariffs were imposed on solar panels, which hit China hard.
If the White House does go ahead with the 5G plan, it would smack of state capitalism, the kind that Americans love to decry about China. By nationalising its development, it would take over or at least affect commercial projects in the name of national interest. Commercial plans and technological developments already achieved in the private sector would have to be dropped or revamped, adding to costs.
Ironically, on the mainland, 5G is primarily being developed by private-sector companies. In the current climate in Washington, though, it is perhaps inevitable that China’s technological frontiers are being seen as a threat.
An international 5G standard is expected to be released with initial specifications this year, with commercial deployment by 2020. China and other countries are willing to abide by it.
Will the US go its own way? The US tech sector is famous for being competitive and for its free flow of ideas and talent, free of government interference. The 5G plan could undermine all that and work to America’s disadvantage. That may benefit China in the end.