5G becomes the latest battlefield in US-China tech war

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Xu Zhijun, Huawei's rotating CEO, introduces the company's 5G Pre-commercial System at the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen last year. Photo: AFP

One, two, three, four, five. Yes, five. China is powering ahead with its 5G program. The world’s second-largest economy has pumped billions of dollars into developing super-fast networks with the market expected to grow to 1.15 trillion yuan (US$180.5 billion) by 2026.

Compared to the 4G sector, this would be a 50% growth ratio, a report by CCID Consulting, the country’s largest IT research firm and consultancy, highlighted.

“China’s 5G industrial chain is relatively complete and it has developed certain advantages, [but] there are still some difficulties and bottlenecks,” Li Zhen, a senior analyst with CCID Consulting in Beijing, said.

Part of President Xi Jinping’s “Made in China 2025” policy, 5G is seen as a crucial component in the technology arms race.

To illustrate the point, a study leaked from the National Security Council argued that for security reasons the United States government should build a cyber-secure national high-speed wireless network, according to the Brookings Institute.

The threat of Beijing opening up an unassailable lead over the US in this sector of the tech industry was also underlined in a report by the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, or CTIA, an American trade body.

“China holds a narrow lead in the race to 5G thanks to a combination of industry momentum and government support,” the CTIA document stated.

Conducted by telecom research companies Analysys Mason and Recon Analytics, the study showed China was slightly ahead of the pack, with South Korea just behind and the US in third place.

“China holds a narrow lead in the race to 5G thanks to a combination of industry momentum and government support,” the CTIA document stated.

In a move to close the gap, the US wireless industry is looking to invest $275 billion into 5G deployment, which could boost the country’s gross domestic product, or GDP, by $500 billion, data from Accenture, a global consultancy commissioned by CTIA, showed. It could also create up to three million jobs, the study revealed.

Naturally, there are wider applications for the US.

“The Trump administration has already weighed in on the national security issues of 5G when it blocked Broadcom’s acquisition of Qualcomm,” Tom Wheeler, a visiting fellow of governance studies for the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institute, said.

Based in Singapore, the ‘American’ company is major semiconductor manufacturer, a key ingredient for 5G systems.

“For this administration, it appears cybersecurity worries trumps all. But they can’t say they weren’t warned,” Wheeler wrote in an earlier Brookings article.

As trade tensions between the US and China increase, it appears 5G has become the latest battlefield in the war for technological supremacy.

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