U.S. could build own 5G network to stop China spying

Kelley Robertson
January 30, 2018

Verizon Communications (VZ) dipped while ZTE and other Chinese telecom gear makers fell Monday on reports that the Trump administration is considering nationalizing 5G wireless networks in an move to prevent Chinese spying on US mobile traffic.

According to the documents obtained by Axios, the pitch deck states that "China is the dominant malicious actor in the Information Domain", and that China is in a dominant position when it comes to the manufacturing and operation of network infrastructure. But a senior member of the National Security Council reportedly believes the U.S. would be under a greater cybersecurity threat from China if the federal government didn't have more control over the upcoming 5G networks.

The second plan would recruit the help of wireless providers to build their own 5G networks, which would compete with one another. While this could take longer and cost more, it would cause "less commercial disruption" to the wireless industry than the government building a network. It would then rent access to carriers like AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile, it said.

I oppose any proposal for the federal government to build and operate a nationwide 5G network.

Industry leaders pointed out that the private sector is already in the process of building and deploying 5G systems, which will be important for a range of connected devices from appliances to self-driving cars.

Each of the four nationwide cell phone carriers - Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint - are developing and testing 5G network technology.

Meredith Attwell Baker, president of the wireless industry group CTIA, added that while 5G is important, "the government should pursue the free market policies that enabled the United States wireless industry to win the race to 4G". The primary goal behind 5G network nationalization would be to keep American wireless infrastructure free and secure from any external threats, the biggest being China.

Last March, AT&T agreed to pay $1.6 billion to acquire Straight Path Communications, whose major asset is 735 millimeter-wave (mmWave) licenses in the 39 GHz band and 133 licenses in the 28 GHz band, covering the entire United States, including the top 40 markets. Recently, the USA government helped squash a deal between Huawei and AT&T that would have seen the carrier offer one of the Chinese tech company's phones.

Earlier today, FCC chair Ajit Pai opposed the Trump Administration's plan to allow the government to control the nation's 5G network.

Trump recently began making good on his aggressive "America First" trade agenda, with China as a primary target by imposing steep tariffs on imported washing machines and solar panels.

The company didn't comment on whether it was in talks about a government-run network. There'll be a fierce debate inside the Trump administration - and an outcry from the industry - over the next 6-8 months over how such a network is built and paid for. "They're smart, they're aggressive, and they're not to be underestimated", he said.

How would you protect the U.S. against Chinese cyberattacks?

China has denied that its companies are trying to install spyware.

Several major carriers, however, are already investing heavily in 5G and it's unclear whether the effort would actually speed up network deployment - although the memo suggested that a national build-out could override local government restrictions on installation of new 5G infrastructure.

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