White House Envisions US Leading Global 5G Development

The White House last month released a document called the National Strategy to Secure 5G.

This SIX PAGE document is a little light on details, but like your 10 year old who is assigned homework, the Secure 5G and Beyond Act requires the President to turn in his homework and he did.

So what would the White House like to do?  Four items:

  • Facilitating the domestic roll-out of 5G
  • Assessing the security risks and core principles for infrastructure
  • Managing those economic and security risks
  • Promoting responsible global development and deployment of the 5G infrastructure

These goals, of course, are wonderful.  But how do you actually do it?

Ernst & Young is estimating that China will spend $223 billion just in capital for 5G between 2019 and 2025.

By comparison, Verizon’s total capital expenditure for everything – not just 5G – is estimated to be around $17 billion this year.

The problem is that a lot of that is to buy so-called spectrum, which is likely free in China.  Verizon spent $3.4 billion to buy spectrum last year.  AT&T spent $2.4 billion.  That comes out of the total budget.

The FCC has a plan called Fast 5G which is supposed to help the carriers by allowing them to buy more spectrum.

Beyond that, we are back to the 10 year old’s homework.

The paper says: To that end, the government will work with the private sector to “identify, develop and apply core security principles — best practices in cybersecurity, supply chain risk management, and public safety — to United States 5G infrastructure.”

For the third bullet (managing risk), it says that the White House will develop or identify supply chain risk management standards and practices and will try to stop U.S. businesses from selling technology or the companies themselves to “foreign adversaries” (AKA China).  On a very superficial basis, it reduces risk by forcing China to steal our tech rather than to sell it to them, but so far, that strategy has only been mildly effective.  It also forces China to spend their money with our allies instead of with us or, worst case for them, to have to develop it themselves.

To cover the last bullet, the White House plans to work with other countries to lead the development of 5G technologies.  Two likely candidates might have been Nokia and Motorola, but both of them sold off their cellular business.  I’m not sure who is really left.

Bottom line, the White House complied with the law to produce a document, but really does not have a plan.  In fact, given our current desire to isolate ourselves, it is not clear what friends we really have in this game.

Plus, we need to figure out where we (translate U.S. cellular carriers) come up with hundreds of billions of dollars that will be needed to play catch up.  If China is going to spend $200 billion and is ahead of us, we might need to spend $400 billion.  Or more.   The new law did not come with bags of cash.  Source: CSO Online

Of course the temporary total contraction of the U.S. economy during 2020 doesn’t help much.  The only good news in that is that the pandemic is affecting China in a similar way, possibly worse, but we don’t really know.

Then there is the issue of public support.  In England 5G cell towers were set ablaze after reports of 5G being linked to the Coronavirus.  In China, if you complain they just shoot you.

Finally, there is the problem of “backhaul” which means getting the signal from the cell tower on the light pole on your block back to the Internet.  This is not a simple problem and the amount of bandwidth needed is staggering.

Bottom line, the White House turned in their homework paper, but that won’t really help very much.  This is not a simple problem and the world’s current economic woes are not helping.  Source: CSO Online

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