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Without Playing a Stronger Role in Setting International Standards for 5G Networks, US Risks Losing 5G Market to China

May 12, 2020 / Rukhsar Dhotekar
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  • The United States needs to take a stronger role in setting international standards for 5G networks or risk losing the international market to China.

  • U.S. technology leaders have been constrained from full participation in 5G standards.

  • US leadership on 4G in turn allowed it dominate the information revolution that underpins today’s “digital sharing economy,” enabling tech giants Google and disruptive firms such as Uber.


The United States needs to take a stronger role in setting international standards for 5G networks or risk losing the international market to China and undercutting US national security.


Washington is faltering due to a lack of coherent policy on a wide swath of foundational issues such as spectrum management for 5G usage, network supply chain security, infrastructure development and data sharing, experts say.


As Breaking D readers know, the question of spectrum access is at the heart of DoD’s fierce battle to overturn the FCC’s approval last month of a plan by Ligado to convert L-band spectrum for satellites to build a terrestrial 5G mobile communications network that DoD and many other US agencies say will jam GPS receivers.


“The US-China competition is essentially about who will control the global information technology infrastructure and standards,” “I think an argument can be made that in the 21st century, whoever controls the information infrastructure will dominate the world.”

-Frank Rose, a senior fellow at Brookings Institution


The webinar, called “Global China: Assessing China’s technological reach in the world,” was based on a new series of Brookings’ papers on topics ranging from Chinese plans for 5G, its progress in developing artificial intelligence (AI) weapons systems to biotechnology.


The panel discussion echoed the concerns raised by a group of powerful Republican senators in an April 14 letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Led by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe, the senators worried that the Trump administration’s moves to blacklist Chinese 5G behemoth Huawei (about which Sydney has written extensively) are in effect pushing the US into international irrelevance as Washington struggles to set a unique domestic path for network development.


Read More: FCC MOVES TO EXPAND L-BAND TO 5G AFTER GPS INTERFERENCE CONTROVERSY
 

Commerce put Huawei on its so-called entity list last May citing national security concerns, and in August expanded its list of related entities subject to restricted US sales. Despite President Donald Trump’s wild swings on whether to keep or lift the ban, those restrictions still stand.


“Since Huawei’s designation on the Department’s Entity List in May 2019, U.S. technology leaders have been constrained from full participation in 5G standards-setting bodies because of uncertainty over whether such participation is prohibited by the Commerce Department’s export control regulations. We are deeply concerned about the risks to the U.S. global leadership position in 5G wireless technology as a result of this reduced participation, and the economic and national security implications of any diminished U.S. role in 5G,” the senators wrote.


Such standards bodies include the influential private-sector Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the widely-recognized International Standards Organisation (ISO) and the UN’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU) that sets global standards for spectrum usage. China’s Houlin Zhao currently holds the ITU Secretary-General post, and China has been extremely active in ITU work to establish standards for 5G — an issue that the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission raised in its 2018 report to Congress.


To remedy this, the senators called on the White House “to issue regulations as soon as possible confirming that U.S. participation in 5G standards-setting is not restricted by export control regulations.” And according to a May 6 article by Reuters, the Commerce Department is currently figuring out how exactly to do just that. Commerce, however, did not respond to a request for comment by press time.


Nicol Turner Lee, a Brookings fellow specializing in Internet governance issues, told the panel while it was Europe that set the standards for 3G communications technologies, the US learned from losing that battle and so “stepped up” to lead the world in developing the technologies and standards for 4G LTE communication. US leadership on 4G in turn allowed it dominate the information revolution that underpins today’s “digital sharing economy,” enabling tech giants Google and disruptive firms such as Uber.


But the US now risks losing the 5G race to China, she argued, which will be at the heart of the next technological revolution. Mobile 5G cellular networks will provide the high speed and low latency (the time between data being broadcast and received by a user) communications capabilities required by the Internet of Things (IoT) and AI, both technologies hotly pursued by the US the Chinese militaries alike.


Read More: PENTAGON ANNOUNCES FINAL 5G PROTOTYPE PROPOSAL