By Richard Arneson
In the event you’re unaware, there is a World Cup currently taking place. These matches, however, aren’t being played on a football pitch, but in offices, data centers and engineering labs the world over. The coveted World Cup of 5G pits dozens of service providers and countries for the right to claim that they are the first to offer this long-awaited wireless evolution. While some may refer to 5G as an upgrade from 4G, that’s a gross understatement. That would be like calling a 1964 Corvette an upgrade from a Ford Model T. What 5G will provide when compared to 4G will require words like, “order of magnitude.” (Read more about it here.)
While it’s unclear exactly who’s leading the pack (not surprisingly, most carriers, or countries, claim they’re in the lead), you have to place one (1) at, or near, the top—China. In fact, global consulting firm Deloitte has no qualms about naming China as the leader in the clubhouse. In its 5G study published earlier this year, they unequivocally declare China the leader in the 5G race. According to the study, since 2015 there have been roughly 30,000 new cell sites built in the U.S. During that period, China has constructed over ten times (10x) that amount—350,000.
Based on the number of mobile subscribers and size of network, China is miles past its nearest competitors, India and the United States. And it’s apparent the Chinese government views anything but a gold medal in the 5G race to be an embarrassment. China identified 5G as the highest priority in its multi-faceted technology roadmap, which they entitled, “Made in China 2025.” They have worked furiously to set global technical standards. They want to win it—badly. And that determination is raising a few hairs on the backs of Western governments’ necks. Sure, they don’t want to lose the race, but they fear what China’s focus on breaking the 5G tape first may mean to national security.
A balloon that promptly deflated
In February of this year, national security staffers in the Trump administration proposed a very un-Republican move—nationalization of a wireless network. In the proposal, which could be better described as a trial balloon, the federal government would build and pay for a national 5G network from which service providers could lease. It was a rather odd idea; fighting China’s 5G deployment with a very China-like proposal―government ownership.
The balloon barely got off the ground. All four (4) major U.S. wireless carriers (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint) vehemently opposed wireless nationalization; it ran a tad counter to the notion of having a competitive advantage. And the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which is led by Trump-appointed Chairman Ajit Pai, didn’t take a shine to the idea, either. In a written statement, Paj said, “The main lesson to draw from the wireless sector’s development over the past three decades — including American leadership in 4G — is that the market, not the government, is best positioned to drive innovation and investment.”
But don’t think the FCC simply turned its back on U.S. carriers’ participation in the great race. In what was seen by many as a “make-up call,” on August 2nd the FCC voted on rules they termed OTMR (One Touch Make Ready), which are designed to hasten the rollouts of 5G networks. These rules address the strict, cumbersome laws in place that specify required distances that must separate network elements attached to a pole—usually a telephone poll. It’s not so much the distances that are the problem, but what’s involved in getting them approved on a pole-by-pole basis (See government red tape).
The U.S. government wasn’t finished, however. They continue to increase pressure on allies to boycott products from China’s largest telecom manufacturers, Huawei and ZTE. It isn’t as much a tactic to enhance U.S. carriers’ 5G deployment, but one (1) that would hit both squarely in the wallet (the boycotts almost buried ZTE). But Huawei sees this as a vindictive step that will only serve to hinder the United States’ 5G market. According to one (1) of Huawei’s chairmen, Eric Xu: “For Huawei, as leader in 5G technology, we don’t have the opportunity to serve the US consumer with 5G solutions and services, then the US market is a market without full competition while still blocking leading players from participation. Now, I’m not sure whether they can really deliver their objective of becoming the world’s No. 1 in 5G.”
The Final Match
It appears that crowning a 5G champion has been whittled down to a two (2) country race. But, unlike its football counterpart, this World Cup winner will likely be left up to interpretation.
Mobility Experts with Answers
If you have questions about your organization’s current mobility strategy (or the one you’d like to implement) and how 5G will affect it, contact GDT’s Mobility Solutions experts at Mobility_Team@gdt.com. They’re composed of experienced solutions architects and engineers who have implemented mobility solutions for some of the largest organizations in the world. They’d love to hear from you.
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