It's nowhere near a sure thing, but the idea is percolating: Fearful of a spying China, members of the Trump administration's national security team say a mobile 5G network needs to be in the cards, and that maybe the government should be the one to build it. The news was first reported by Axios, which obtained a PowerPoint deck and memo that were drafted by a senior National Security Council official and shared within the administration. It outlines two paths to 5G: In one scenario, wireless providers build their own 5G networks; in the other, the feds build (and foot the bill for) one 5G network, which Axios says would "be an unprecedented nationalization of a historically private infrastructure" but "needed in order to create a secure pathway for emerging technologies like self-driving cars and virtual reality."
- Axios' take: It paints option 2 as the likelier one—faster and cheaper to make happen, and a better method of insulating Americans from foreign spies—but Axios airs some caveats, among them that some telecomm companies' 5G work is already underway, and that they'd likely kick and scream. To wit, CNN reports AT&T and Verizon expect to start making 5G available this year. The Wall Street Journal describes the US as "almost uniquely ill-suited" to creating a national network in part because of our "effective oligopoly among telecommunications and cable companies."
- The timeline: Reuters reports a senior administration official confirmed the "gist" of the Axios report and characterized the discussion as some six to eight months away from President Trump weighing in on it. The memo suggests an overall three-year time frame, noting, "It is necessary and possible to build a secure, high-performance, world-leading 5G network platform by the end of the first term."
- The reasoning: "We want to build a network so the Chinese can’t listen to your calls," the official tells Reuters, but the Journal paints the situation as about far more than telephones. It describes nationwide 5G as a "prerequisite" for technologies like self-driving cars, and notes that China's own 5G development is already underway. Whoever is out of the gate first will get the competitive upper hand "because 5G is expected to provide the underlying architecture of the global information economy."
- Elaborating on that last point: Quartz's assessment: "To enable [5G] requires a ton of new infrastructure, and many more transmitters, and the memo's fears are driven by fears over who's building it and what sort of reach that will give them."
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