U.S. national security officials are weighing whether to build a nationalized 5G wireless network to combat the threat of Chinese eavesdropping, but a key government regulator said Monday American telecommunications companies should instead lead the development of the new technology.
Officials at the National Security Council in the White House are urging President Donald Trump consider an intense government effort to create the fifth generation wireless network by the end of his first term as president in early 2021, saying it is “necessary and possible to build a secure, high-performance, world-leading 5G network platform.”
In a memo first disclosed by the Axios web news site, officials said “China has achieved a dominant position in the manufacture and operation of network infrastructure.” The memo contended that “China is the dominant malicious actor in the Information Domain.”
One U.S. official told Reuters, “We want to build a network so the Chinese can’t listen to your calls. We have to have a secure network that doesn’t allow bad actors to get in. We also have to ensure the Chinese don’t take over the market and put every non-5G network out of business.”
The plan for a government-owned 5G network is apparently a half year or more from consideration by Trump and already would trail development of a 5G system by others throughout the world.
As envisioned, such a 5G network would eclipse the speed and capacity of the 4G networks that currently comprise the world’s top wireless operations. U.S. telecom giants Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and other carriers have already invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the development of their own 5G networks, while South Korea, Japan and other countries are testing such systems.
Ajit Pai, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, is arguing against a government takeover, saying U.S. private sector development should continue.
“I oppose any proposal for the federal government to build and operate a nationwide 5G network,” he said. “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.”
He added, “What government can and should do is to push spectrum into the commercial marketplace and set rules that encourage the private sector to develop and deploy next-generation infrastructure. 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.”