Illustration: Sarah Grillo, Rebecca Zisser/Axios
The advent of 5G has turned into a serious geopolitical fight — actually, two.
Why it matters: Being first brings the opportunity to take the lead with the kinds of never-before-possible apps that exploit a new generation of network capabilities. For example, in being first with 4G, the U.S. was able to lead the way with services like Uber and Snapchat.
Fight #1: The race to get 5G networks up and running.
- It's a three-way game right now among the U.S., China, and South Korea.
- Different studies predict different winners depending on what they measure —first to launch, first to achieve broad coverage, and so on.
- The U.S. is set to have initial 5G smartphone service next year with some very early commercial launches for mobile broadband this year.
- While the U.S. may be technically first with 5G in a few places, China is spending significantly more and will likely be first with 5G en masse.
- Some European carriers have been slower to move.
Fight #2: The competition over whose technology will power the networks.
- U.S. security concerns about Chinese equipment have loomed large, and Huawei is one of the major suppliers.
- As it has in the past, the U.S. won't allow Huawei to supply gear to major U.S. telecom firms, favoring European players Ericsson and Nokia (as well as Korea's Samsung).
- These concerns that prompted some U.S. officials to ponder earlier this year whether the country needed to nationalize the 5G effort, though that idea was flawed and faded fast.
- Worries about Chinese influence over 5G is a big reason why the Trump administration blocked Broadcom's attempt to purchase Qualcomm.
Be smart: The U.S. has no major cellular network equipment makers. Chipmaker Qualcomm is the biggest American player in the underlying 5G technology.
What they're saying: "I don't want the United States to win just so we can wave the flag saying we're number one," FCC Chairman Ajit Pai told Axios. Past winners of network races have "reaped a disproportionate amount of the benefits for their citizens."
- A study commissioned by the cell phone trade group CTIA estimated that U.S. companies won $125 billion in revenue by leading in 4G.
Go deeper: Why being first in 5g matters (WSJ)