5G and the Front Lines of the U.S.-China Great Power Competition

The global race to 5G is pitting China against the west for economic and technological superiority. The U.S. needs to complement its punitive strategy against Chinese telecom manufacturer Huawei with investments in American innovation.

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Roughly every decade, a new generation of wireless technology emerges that fundamentally disrupts how we access the internet and how it impacts our daily life. For example, 3G was the first network technology to provide ubiquitous access to the web from any mobile device. Then increased throughput from 4G fueled the social-mobile internet that enabled real-time social media and multimedia content sharing. And now we have 5G, which promises to unlock the Internet of Things (IoT), connecting everything from home appliances to critical infrastructure to the cloud, enabling accelerated data analytics and advanced automation.

Along the way, however, a new player disrupted the telecommunications vendor community. Once led by North American companies like Motorola, Lucent, and Nortel, today’s global telecommunications technology ecosystem is primarily led by a single company—China-based Huawei. Huawei’s impressive rise over the past 15 years was the result of a deliberate strategy aligned with China’s vision of economic and technological superiority as an instrument of national power. Huawei’s burgeoning global market share raises a number of significant concerns.

The U.S. is actively searching for both policy and technology solutions to this complex problem. 5G is an active front in the growing great power competition between the U.S. and China. These solutions typically fall along three basic lines: slowing down Chinese expansion, accelerating U.S. innovation, and working around this new major player. In the end, any successful national strategy for 5G must leverage and combine multiple strategy dimensions.