Axios recently released a report claiming that the Trump administration’s National Security Council (NSC) officials were considering nationalizing 5G network services, causing a brief stir that saw multiple parties, including the Trump administration itself, publically shooting down the idea. Nevertheless, the document has many discussing the importance of 5G and what the future will look like once it’s become the connectivity “law of the land,” as well as whether or not, as the source material claims, we are in danger of being left behind by countries such as China.
Nevertheless, White House officials confirmed to multiple outlets, including Recode, that the document brought to light by Axios is dated, and stressed that it had “merely been floated by a staff member, [and is] not a reflection of some imminent, major policy announcement — and probably might never be.”
So what will the world look like when 5G is the norm, and how far away from that reality are we? And is the US really at risk of being left behind?
What Exactly Is 5G?
5G is the new telecommunication standard that will sweep the country, some say, in as early as 2 years from now. The way to understand this technology is to go all the way back to the beginning, when cellphones used to be more akin to bricks. That analog network eventually evolved into 2G, which supported expanded digital services and voice communication.
“3G allowed for the use of data, letting us connect to the internet with our phones,” reports Michelle Castillo with CNBC. “4G’s main innovation was speed, allowing people to access data about 10 times faster than 3G.”
5G is set to quicken our speeds once again, but some predict that this iteration of internet standards is even more important than those before, making things possible that we didn’t realize would be. For a minor example, using connected devices on airplanes currently requires special solutions like gogo inflight, but Ericsson and Panasonic are currently working on a solution that will “enable crew and passengers on aircraft, cruise ships and yachts, and employees in the energy and mining sectors, to enjoy 2G, 3G, LTE and Wi-Fi connectivity,” according to their website.
More specifically, 5G connectivity promises quicker response times, faster data transfer rates, and the ability to connect more devices at one time. This is especially important in a world that’s growing as quickly as it is, with global IP traffic expected to reach 1.1 zettabytes in short order.
Nationalization and the Threat of China
While the nationalization of 5G may have been a brief possibility at one time, it’s been torn to shreds by experts. The Augusta Free Press quotes Virginia Tech Professor Jeff Reed, in their article “5G, or not 5G? That is the question”:
“The slow start of FirstNet, the nationwide public safety network is an example of the government trying to build a 4G network, that is a small fraction of the size needed for 5G, and the deployment has gone very slowly … We can’t afford this to happen with 5G. It would be very harmful for the economy.”
They also note that Reed has served as an advisor to the FCC and 30+ organizations including in AT&T and T-Mobile during the merger, and is currently co-authoring a book on 5G.
While Reed brings up great points, another aspect of nationalized 5G that we can’t ignore is ethics. If the government can see basically everything all of its citizens are doing on its network, we know that they will abuse that power. We’ve seen it before with PRISM, which sparked widespread debated on the ethics of social network analytics. Do we truly forget so quickly?
Still, this entire fiasco highlights just how much the Trump administration fears Chinese hegemony over 5G technology. China has responded by calling on the international community to enhance dialogue and to further cooperation between one another. While none of us truly know China’s intentions, they seem to be comfortable — perhaps an indicator that they are pulling ahead.
The Brave World Ahead
We shouldn’t worry too much about Chinese influence in the telecommunications market. Our innovations are strong, and the downsides of nationalization far outweigh the downsides of global market competition.
Besides that, many of the major telecommunications providers are already predicting that we’ll have 5G networks in the US by 2020. This will enable the internet of everything, which includes not only smart cars, but smart roads that control their movements, as well as self-flying drones and big rig trucks.
It’s exciting times ahead for everybody in the US. Hopefully, nationalization stays on the backburner and the speedbumps to 5G adoption are overcome — if that happens, we’ll see a future filled with new tech and connectivity like we’ve only dreamed. Nobody knows what the future of 5G looks like exactly. What we know is that it’s going to be here sooner rather than later, and it’s going to change everything.