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Trump Push for Leadership in 5G Gets Pushback

Regulators and elected officials on Monday rejected as overly expensive and unrealistic the idea of a “moonshot” effort by floated by the Trump administration to build a nationwide, next-generation wireless network. The government seems to have concerns about China winning the race to 5G at the heart of its proposal.  One thing is for sure. 5G technology is coming - that is certain. But why the governmental interest - national security aside?

The government, perpetually behind when it comes to digital technology, wants to be ahead of the curve this time. There are already rumblings about it not only just being out front on 5G, but regulating it better. To be honest, all I really know at the moment is that, like all the previous generations, 5G will be significantly faster- maybe ten to 100 times faster- than its predecessor 4G and, maybe like you I wish to learn more about its exciting potential... and why the government should not be in the lead in its development.

The government doesn’t only want to be in the loop on 5G but, if President-nee-builder Trump would have his way, it would like to be involved in building the 5G network. This plan is getting pushback from the private sector-notably-the telecoms. Trump is also getting blowback from his own FCC chairman, Ajit Pai who is now on record stating that this is not a good idea. What I find ironic about this wordplay is that Trump, a Republican - you know, the folks who supposedly hate big government and regulation - would even countenance such a suggestion.

Trump, basking in the glow of a better than expected State of the Union speech and the attendant bump in the polls, seeks to make 5G technology part of his infrastructure proposals. He could then be compared favorably with former GOP President and icon, Dwight Eisenhower. A centralized, secure national 5G network could be built within three years and represents "the 21st century equivalent of the Eisenhower National Highway System," according to Trump acolytes.

5G wireless networks, it is anticipated, will improve connectivity for smartphones, tablets and home broadband networks, as well as self-driving cars and myriad other devices. Carriers aim to monetize the 5G advantage in a frenzied race to sign up new subscribers. The government i.e., President Trump and his circle, have their eyes focused on beating their nemesis, China, to the punch in this race for economic supremacy. For the telecoms, if China falls behind that would be a bonus, but it is not their focus at present. BTW, Verizon and AT&T already have 5G trials underway.

It seems that Pai is truer to his GOP roots in opposing government involvement in what should continue to be a private sector initiative. The government should be a supporter, not an interloper. According to him:

“The main lesson to draw from the wireless sector’s development over the past three decades—including American leadership in 4G—is that the market, not government, is best positioned to drive innovation and investment, Any federal effort to construct a nationalized 5G network would be a costly and counterproductive distraction from the policies we need to help the United States win the 5G future.”

Pai is joined by another FCC commissioner, who suggested that if the Trump administration’s proposal is an attempt at a "trial balloon", it's a failed one  FCC Commissioner Michael O'Reilly, also said the options being considered, if accurate, "are nonsensical and do not recognize the current marketplace." In a rare display of bi-partisanship, Democratic commissioners also threw cold water on the proposal

The old saying, when it comes to government inefficiency, that a camel was a horse until it went into committees, applies here. In addition to likely cost overruns, the government would only foul things up and impede progress.  As governments are wont to do, the Trump administration is thinking of trotting out the national security issue to gain leverage.

You see, if you are first in the 5G race, you have a chance of thwarting Chinese espionage -both corporate intellectual property theft and state-level espionage. China is already under scrutiny for its proposed plans to build smartphones in the US, in what may be a ploy to be in a better position to steal corporate secrets. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), who is the vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, agreed that there are "serious concerns relating to the Chinese government’s influence into network equipment markets.”

AT&T is well on the way to delivering 5 G into several markets later this year.  And Verizon, along with AT&T and other telecoms companies, has already expended hundreds of millions of dollars on 5G. And it is not alone. As commissioner O’Reilly opined:

"Instead (of government interference)…., the administration should acknowledge that “ U.S. commercial wireless companies are the envy of the world and are already rushing ahead to lead in 5G."

Perhaps, though, the bigger question is: does the GOP really want to step on the toes of its donors and benefactors in the telecom industry - their partners in the recent net neutrality wars? I don’t think so.

Image credit: By jamesteohart/Shutterstock.

Written by: Stan Ward

Stan Ward has enjoyed writing for 50 years. Writing has been a comfortable companion to a successful business and teaching career for him. Find him on Google+.

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