The right frame of reference for 5G

The right frame of reference for 5G
© Hill Illustration

Getting 5G communications right is of critical national importance and is no easy task by any means. 5G could be the first significant technological, economic, and policy challenge of the 21st century, and one for which we have no solid frame of reference. The size and scope of 5G, the breadth and depth of its impact, and what it means for our country, domestically and internationally, are unprecedented, to say nothing of the challenge posed by China. That is what makes this a truly difficult problem.

What do we mean? 5G could create three million jobs in the United States alone and add $500 billion to our gross domestic product, according to Accenture. 5G could add as much as $14 trillion to the global economy by 2030. In two years, 5G could allow over 18 billion devices to use internet of things technology. Think about the sheer size of that impact.

There is no aspect of daily life that will not be touched by 5G. Your home will be smart and your appliances connected. Your car will generate data and warn you of necessary maintenance. Ambulances will be connected to emergency rooms sending your vital signs to waiting doctors well in advance of your arrival. The workplace will become more efficient and new industries that exist only on the drawing board will open up new job and career opportunities. Put simply, how we live, work, and interact with each other and with technology will transform in the next few years.

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The size, scope, and speed of this transformation is inconceivable. Even the rollout of the internet and its adoption will seem slow by comparison. This is to say nothing of the most significant challenge of 5G, which is China. Beijing has recognized the importance of 5G to the domestic and global economy. It is aggressively working, using all elements of national power, to corner the 5G market, define industry rules and regulations, and dominate worldwide rollout of 5G technology. Whoever wins the 5G race will reap not only the economic benefits of the technology, but also gain a significant military and intelligence advantage over its adversaries.

The sheer size of the 5G impact and presence of a very clear adversary makes this issue such a challenge to address. Our policymaking process is slow, deliberative, measured, and responsive. This process is indeed one of the strengths of our government system, but in the rapidly changing and increasingly competitive world today, it is just not keeping up.

The tools we have to respond to these challenges are insufficient, as the lines between public and private are blurred with 5G. How we view the tools of national power are not the same as Beijing. Where we draw the line at supporting companies, Beijing directly subsidizes companies like Huawei. Where we abide by international trade rules and norms, China regularly flouts these norms and steals our intellectual property.

We need to adopt a new frame of reference, reconsider our approach to policymaking, and look at the whole of government to address the 5G challenge. There are signs this is starting. The Federal Communications Commission made the right decision by opening up the spectrum to a public auction. This will encourage innovation and competition within the United States. On the market side, we need to encourage research and development through smart seed investment. There are many creative companies with ideas on how to capitalize on the promise of 5G, but they need a kickstart. We need to develop innovative financing methods for companies that share our democratic and free market principles.

Internationally, we must have a vocal presence at the standards bodies that are defining the rules for 5G. We have been woefully absent and need to make participation a priority. We need to work with our allies to staunch the spread of Huawei and other Chinese companies owned by the state. We need to better communicate what Chinese dominance of 5G means. This is something we have not successfully done, as shown by Britain deciding to allow Huawei into certain elements of the 5G network.

As a country, we must rethink our approach to 5G and creatively use all elements of our own national power. This is just the first of many policy challenges that will come in the future. Artificial intelligence, quantum computing, autonomous weapons, machine learning algorithms, and more are on the horizon and will define our future. 5G is just the first of these. Getting it right is vital for our economic and national security.

Mike Rogers, a former representative from Michigan in Congress, served as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He is currently chairman of the group 5G Action Now. You can follow him on Twitter @RepMikeRogers.