Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s increasingly belligerent rhetoric in the Asian hemisphere have made policymakers realize that we cannot depend on these countries for essential materials for American economy, not to mention our national defense.
To its credit, Congress has taken steps to ameliorate this vulnerability. For example, last month it adopted the flea law, which calls for spending billions of dollars to encourage chipmakers to build new factories in the United States. The Biden administration has also taken steps to ensure that the United States becomes less dependent on the import of strategic minerals like titanium, uraniumand lithiumamong others, geopolitically unreliable countries.
However, a vulnerability that the CHIPS law could have done more to solve is one that is becoming increasingly critical in the high-tech economy: the technology needed to grow our 5G cellular networks.
5G is the newest standard for wireless networks, and it promises users faster speed and lower latency to access the Internet: to take an example, download movie would take six seconds on a 5G network but seven minutes on the previous 4G network. The new 5G technology will also increase network capacity and improve its overall reliability.
But 5G isn’t just a simple G: it’s more than just a speed boost: it’s actually an essential technology that will underpin virtually all future innovation. For example, Jon Pelson, author of the influential book Wireless Wars, observed that with a ubiquitous 5G network, every element of a city or public infrastructure would be connected. Such a development would have enormous economic benefits.
Every device that includes the hardware chips in the CHIPS Act will fall under the 5G part of the legislation – although that’s only a small part of the funding.
Moreover, our water, our national networks, our army and many others depend on it, so it is extremely important to support and protect it.
Wireless carriers are rolling out their networks nationwide. For instance, The Verizon network in Washington DC offers ultra-wideband 5G along a few busy corridors and a slower version of 5G throughout much of the rest of the district.
Over the next decade, Verizon, ATT and T-Mobile will each spend tens of billions of dollars to expand and upgrade their networks. Currently, however, most of the technology they need to do this is made overseas, much of it in countries that aren’t necessarily reliable allies. This must change.
In 2020, the Trump administration acknowledged the inherent security concerns of supplying 5G equipment from Huawei, a Chinese company with ties to the Chinese military, and led an international campaign to bar it from the government. 5G infrastructure of the United States and other Western countries. One of the fears was that the equipment could somehow be used to spy on the US government.
The Biden administration has continued its efforts to encourage American companies to make their supply chains less dependent on China, but additional investments are needed to protect our 5G equipment supply chain.
Fortunately, some efforts to induce the relocation of 5G technology are already underway, and government agencies are showing significant leadership. The Ministry of Defence, for example, recently launched a 5G Challenge Preliminary Event to accelerate the development and adoption of open interfaces, interoperable components and multi-vendor solutions, which he hopes will boost the national development of 5G technologies. It has also been reported that the DoD is working on deploy autonomous 5G networks at military bases.
There are positive signs that a domestic 5G manufacturing industry is growing in the United States. For example, a New York-based wireless company called JMA Wireless opened a 5G manufacturing campus in Syracuse in early summer – the first and only US-owned facility of its kind in the country.
Demand for 5G technology will only grow over the next decade, and it’s important that US tech companies have unfettered access to it, given the growing importance it’s going to have in the US economy.