America, Not China, Must Achieve 5G Leadership

Ken Blackwell is FRC's Senior Fellow for Human Rights and Constitutional Governance. This article appeared in CNS News on May 7, 2020.

As we have faced the COVID-19 crisis over these last several weeks, one thing that has become crystal clear is the importance of fast and reliable Internet connections.

Rather than going to the office, attending meetings, or going to class, millions of Americans are participating in online meetings and video calls. Families are using FaceTime or Zoom as their only means of “seeing” each other. Americans must now turn to the Internet for virtual religious services and for online consultations with their doctors.

The power of this connectivity we are getting on our wireless devices and/or our home Internet service is simply astounding and would have been unthinkable only a few years ago. Imagine if we were facing this crisis without the ability to do all these things. Our economy would be exponentially worse and our family and spiritual lives would be in grave peril without the ability to maintain those connections.

For years, we have been hearing about leaps in technology like 5G – but now we are seeing the benefits of those inventions firsthand. The American spirit of innovation has led to this amazing technology which I believe will be critical in leading our nation out of the economic disruption we are facing.

As a result, we must dramatically accelerate 5G technology and make it available to as many Americans as possible. Furthermore, it is now even more vital that the U.S. continue our legacy of global technology leadership – and not let China win that race.

Wisely, the Trump administration and policy makers at all levels have made 5G leadership a top priority. The administration has made 5G deployment and security a key national priority. Earlier this year, they released a national strategy to secure 5G. This focus, coupled with the policies of low taxes, less regulation, and greater IP protection ,encourage the type of investment and research we need to deliver 5G innovation.

President Trump’s appointed FCC chairman Ajit Pai has aggressively led his agency in promoting U.S. 5G leadership. In addition to rolling back harmful net neutrality regulations, Chairman Pai and his colleagues recently moved to open more spectrum for high speed Wi-Fi use. The FCC and the White House are both looking at promoting the concept of virtual radio access networks (RAN) – a trend being embraced by U.S. innovators. This concept uses various software-based components for a more flexible and diverse 5G network.

Many experts believe that increased use of these networks can be critical to the U.S. competition with China – namely Huawei – in global 5G leadership. Tom Duesterberg, a scholar at the Hudson Institute who has served in the Commerce Department, wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “The idea is to bypass much of the traditional wired connections, switches and other processing equipment with a virtual network. The initial radio signal from a mobile device is connected to the internet and almost all functionality is built into software, largely through cloud computing. This avoids the proprietary hardware base that Huawei exploits to maintain control over the components, software and functionality of its networks.”

He concluded that the use of these networks will help “carry the day for America” in its battle with China over 5G. 

In recent days, virtually all the leading American tech and telecom companies (along with those of allied nations) have joined together in a coalition to advance policies that support radio access networks. This Open RAN policy coalition includes AT&T, Verizon, Google, Facebook, IBM, Qualcomm and many more. 

The battle with China over 5G leadership is critical – which has become more evident throughout the global COVID-19 crisis. We need America to continue to lead the development of 5G here and around the world. To do so, we must pull out all the steps to accelerate deployment. With the right policies, the private sector will continue to lead that charge. President Trump and some congressional leaders on both sides have talked about the next round of stimulus including infrastructure – including broadband. We must tread carefully with more stimulus spending; however, if we do – supporting 5G infrastructure is an investment that may make sense. 

After 9/11, we implemented policies to ensure greater wireless access to first responders and after the recession of 2008, we used the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to provide grants to increase broadband access across the nation. The administration can look to these programs as models to build on to support 5G deployment, encourage virtual networks, among other things.

We want smart solutions and limited government – not the China model of government-funded and controlled 5G networks. But we need to take drastic action to provide greater connectivity to all our citizens and to ensure U.S. leadership of 5G across the world. We don’t just want a U.S.-dominated 5G for us – we want 5G solutions that we can continue to export to the world.

As we look to move out of the current health and economic crisis, American technology leadership will be critical for us – and for the entire world. Fast and reliable Internet like 5G will be critical in allowing us to be connected to our families, communities, and businesses in good times and bad – and will help us create new jobs and industries for the future.