The emergence of a new “Cold War” between China and the US is a topic of growing concern that will have a tremendous impact on alliances and global relations for years to come.
This geopolitical rivalry, characterized by competition for global influence, economic supremacy, and technological dominance, is intensifying and requires a multi-faceted response.
While China’s efforts to establish itself as a global military power through conventional arms are well documented, less attention has been paid to many of the more obscure and technical underpinnings of China’s strategy.
For example, winning the global race to dominate fifth-generation “5G” wireless technology will be a key pillar of China’s plan. The United States cannot allow this to happen.
National Security Imperative
Leading the world in 5G is a national security imperative. The US must maintain its leading edge in developing equipment standards, patents, security, and an integrated global supply chain for 5G technology.
Allocating more wireless radio spectrum for commercial deployments will be critical to compete with China, which has already issued over 70 percent more licensed mid-band spectrum for 5G than the US.
A study from Boston Consulting Group reports that American mobile networks are already facing capacity constraints, and experts estimate that the US will have a substantial deficit of 400 MHz of spectrum by 2027 and 1400 MHz by 2032 if nothing changes.
This gap gives Beijing a competitive advantage in industries vital to future American technology leadership and national security interests.
Deployment of 5G Networks
Among other high-tech advantages, America’s ability to combat cyber threats, gather vital intelligence, and deploy the latest computer-guided weaponry will hinge on the full deployment of state-of-the-art 5G networks.
Allowing China to deploy robust 5G infrastructure before the US does could leave the nation vulnerable to cybersecurity attacks on everything from combat operations to the electric grid, communications and transportation networks, and other essential public services.
A recent analysis from the Center for Strategic and International Studies similarly concluded that whichever country leads the deployment of 5G technology will determine the scope and direction of critical applications and services.
This means that US innovation in essential industries that use wireless technologies — including robotics, cloud computing, biotechnologies, military communications, and logistics — could also be hindered if it does not get serious about spectrum allocation.
Keeping Pace With China
This fall, two events will majorly impact US leadership in wireless technology. In November, the UN International Telecommunications Union will convene in Dubai for the 2023 World Radio Conference (WRC-23). Around that same time, the Department of Commerce is set to unveil a major National Spectrum Strategy through the National Telecommunications Information Administration.
The events will help lay the foundation for spectrum policy for years to come and set the course that will enable 6G technology in the future.
Reports in July of China’s international advocacy leading up to WRC-23 indicate that the country will support the allocation of 1490 MHz of spectrum for potential new 5G use and suggest the US is currently supporting nearly 80 percent less. The National Spectrum Strategy must identify at least 1500 MHz of spectrum to repurpose for commercial use to keep pace with China.
If the US fails to lead on 5G technology, there is no doubt that China will. Given how closely intertwined wireless technology innovation is with the economic and national security of the United States, policymakers must act with urgency to improve America’s spectrum deficit to maintain global leadership.
A little over a decade ago, the US dominated the 4G LTE marketplace after falling behind in 3G to Europe. Then, government and industry came together to overcome this challenge. There is no reason why, with the right policies, America cannot do that once again.
Major General Bob Dees, US Army, Retired, has a breadth of national security expertise, including development of high technology weapons and communications systems. He is President of Resilience Consulting LLC, promoting individual, leader, and national resilience best practices.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Defense Post.
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