The US desperately wants to defeat China in the 5G race. “We can help with that,” Huawei tells the FCC. “It’s all perfectly logical. First, lift this ban …”
I’ve been perusing reports and materials from the recent 5G summit convened by – of all entities – the White House, and I must confess the whole thing baffles me.
Well, not the whole thing. Some parts did make sense – like where Trump admin officials admitted they “didn’t know anything” about 5G (which we already knew), and the FCC’s ‘5G FAST’ strategy to free up more spectrum and streamline site deployments, which has to happen before 5G can move beyond the glorified-WiMAX stage.
What’s baffling to me is the ‘FAST’ part – which, incidentally, doesn’t mean “fast” as in “fast data speeds” or “fast rollouts”, but “Facilitate America’s Superiority in 5G Technology”.
Apparently the Trump administration’s sudden interest in 5G is about ensuring America deploys it before anyone else – especially China – because they seem convinced that (1) 5G will pay off handsomely in terms of fostering innovation and economic growth, and (2) there will be no payoff for the US unless they “win” the 5G race.
CTIA president and CEO Meredith Attwell Baker – who spoke at the summit – has been pushing the latter argument for a few months now. I’ve written before about how that argument makes no sense to me – possibly because I’m not an economist – and frankly, it still doesn’t.
As you might expect, it doesn’t make much sense to Huawei either, but they do seem keen to try and exploit that mentality to their own advantage.
As you know, Huawei is currently banned from bidding for FCC-funded 5G projects. In a filing [PDF] with the FCC protesting this policy, Huawei offered a number of logical reasons why it should not be prevented from playing in America’s 5G game. Some were good, some not so good, but the most interesting one was this (paraphrased): if you lock us out, China really will win the 5G race.
The basic logic is this: keeping Huawei from bidding for 5G contracts lessens the number of competing vendors to two (Nokia and Ericsson), which means operators will have to spend more on equipment, rollouts will be slower, and costs will be passed on to consumers, which will slow uptake of services. None of which is a problem in China, where rollouts are on schedule. Thus, without Huawei helping keep prices down, America loses and China wins.
Also: Everyone else loves us, why can’t you?
While we’re at it, the Huawei filing also points out that US (and Australian) fears of Huawei jeopardizing national security are clearly baseless because the company already sells its networking gear in over 170 countries – many of them close US allies – who mysteriously have not had their national security compromised as a result.
Huawei has also pushed this point in an email to a number of journalists (including Disruptive.Asia) highlighting two recent news stories in which officials from Canada and New Zealand – two members of the so-called “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance that includes the US, Australia and the UK – have said they have no plans to ban Huawei from their 5G deployments.
Well, that’s not quite what they said.
GCSB Minister Andrew Little said New Zealand won’t ban Huawei from 5G projects just because Australia did, while Scott Jones, the head of Ottawa’s Canadian Centre for Cyber Security, said Canada wasn’t too worried because its cyber security system is so good that if Huawei’s equipment did pose some kind of threat, it would be detected during the equipment testing process. In neither case did anyone rule out the possibility of a ban. But, you know, close enough for PR.
(For the record, in August a report from Britain’s GCHQ spy agency said some of Huawei’s products posed a security risk, but that was mainly to do with concerns over continuing support for third-party software in its supply chain.)
Somehow I don’t see the FCC – or anyone in the Trump administration, really – buying either argument, if only because Huawei is just too convenient a political punching bag at a time where the US seems determined to make 5G a political “winner take all” debate, which means that logic and facts don’t matter as much as posturing. Still, give Huawei points for trying.