The 5G Race

If you use AT&T, you’ve probably noticed the “AT&T 5gE” in the top right of your phone. AT&T has spent millions on a marketing campaign to convince customers that they are using the cutting-edge of technology, right on the doorstep of 5G wireless. This is despite the fact that the phones are still on a 4G network, and the fact that smartphones need to be redesigned to use 5G – it is impossible to use a 4G phone to access a 5G network. Tests of 5G in Chicago are reportedly extremely spotty and do not work indoors. 


Meanwhile, Huawei is beginning to sell it’s first 5G phone. ⅔ of 5G networks outside of China use Huawei-built infrastructure. China has 350,000 5G base stations, 10x that of the United States. There is obvious fear with giving a Chinese company with close ties to the Chinese government a monopoly over such an important technology. Not to mention, 5G could be a massive economic boon for the United States – adding hundreds of billions to global GDP and creating millions of jobs. These fears likely prompted President Trump made the decision to ban US companies from using Huawei’s telecommunications equipment. While Trump and President Xi Jinping made agreements regarding Huawei at the G20 summit, these agreements largely appear to be about Huawei’s phones, rather than Huawei’s network infrastructure. 


Halting the usage of Huawei equipment in the United States is an important first step to catching up to China in the 5G race. Trump’s decision does not merely affect the United States, but also American allies and their prospective markets, as our allies are likely to follow our lead. America’s logical next step is to invest billions in the development of 5G technology – as a matter of national defense, upgrading infrastructure, and ensuring American technological dominance throughout the 2020s. Some criticize the idea of building a national 5G network, saying that we ought to leave 5G to private companies. But if AT&T is blowing millions on an advertising campaign pretending it has 5G, rather than investing money in creating 5G, and Verizon is falsely claiming that it is the “first to 5G”, why should we trust these companies to build a 5G network? 


America’s moonshot was an effort that combined government resources with private ingenuity, and this is exactly what must be done with our 5G network. The government needs to provide funding to startups and innovative companies making actual progress on 5G – and it needs to punish companies that mislead customers on the status of 5G. The government must take the initiative in ensuring that expansion of 5G doesn’t miss unprofitable rural areas – in this era, an internet connection is a must for every citizen. 5G towers are small and numerous, unlike gigantic cell towers that reach hundreds of feet into the air – it is imperative that the United States government ensures that the components for these small-cell towers are manufactured entirely in the United States. This will ensure that Americans – not Chinese or Vietnamese or Taiwanese – gain jobs from the 5G boom, and ensure that our 5G network is secure from foreign intervention in the form of hardware bugs. Ultimately, the government must use it’s vast resources and human capital to rapidly accelerate 5G growth and ensure that American 5G technology is cheaper and superior to Chinese 5G technology.


The idea of the government intervening in the free market to ensure American dominance in 5G may scare financial libertarians. But 5G is a matter of national security, national power, and the future of the global economy. Leaving the government out of space and allowing the USSR to dominate space exploration would’ve been equivalent to American collective suicide during the cold war. Leaving the government of 5G and leaving it to profit-driven private sector companies is equivalent to American suicide during the digital era and the new cold war with China. 


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