Nov 8, 2019

China makes the first big 5G move

New China Unicom 5G equipment in Haikou, Hainan Province. Photo: Visual China Group/Getty

China switched on a massive 5G network Friday, bringing 50 cities online in one of the largest-ever single rollouts of the super-fast mobile networks.

Why it matters: Right now, this means some Chinese smartphone users can access super-fast internet. But in the long run, experts worry the deployment could help China vault past the U.S. not only in the critical 5G technology itself but also in the new applications it's expected to support.

The big picture: If AI and quantum computing are driving the U.S.–China tech competition, 5G networking is close behind.

  • Yes, it allows for faster Netflix streaming or video game downloading, but it also enables quicker decision-making for robots, or easier communication with dispersed military units or drones.
  • The U.S. and Europe have some consumer 5G networks up and running already, but they're considerably more limited in scope.

"This launch demonstrates the effectiveness of China’s massive government push to 5G," says Paul Scharre, director of the Technology and National Security Program at the Center for a New American Security.

  • The U.S., which lags in some facets of 5G networking but maintains an advantage in the fundamental technologies that back it up, has hit Chinese networking giant Huawei with bans and sanctions.
  • Scharre says the U.S. government also needs to actively promote homegrown U.S. competition in 5G, where Huawei has dominated until now.
  • The early Chinese launch could help Huawei continue commanding the international market.

5G is seen as both an economic multiplier in addition to a potential military tool, which means a wider rollout could pump new life into industries that depend on wireless communication — which today is nearly every one.

  • "If 5G is so revolutionary that it unlocks incredible new kinds of economic growth and tech development, then a slower rollout in the U.S. could harm our competitiveness and could hollow out tech companies," says Bateman of the Carnegie Endowment.

What's next: This week President Trump said the U.S. would cooperate with "like-minded nations" on developing 5G and has urged allies to swear off Huawei equipment, Reuters reports.

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5G will see a wide rollout in 2020

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While 5G started to arrive this year, you really had to seek out the next-generation experience: First, you had to find a carrier that covered part of your city, and then you had to buy one of the handful of phones that supported the new network technology.

Why it matters: Next year, the script will flip, as 5G support will be baked into a wide range of devices and networks expand to cover more of the country. Every new generation of cellular technology has an awkward initial phase, but 5G is actually poised to arrive more smoothly than its predecessors.

Go deeperArrowDec 5, 2019

T-Mobile launches nationwide 5G

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T-Mobile is officially debuting its nationwide 5G service today using its 600 MHz spectrum.

Why it matters: The move allows T-Mobile to claim the broadest 5G coverage, even if that frequency doesn't give the kind of ultra-fast speeds possible using millimeter wave frequencies.

Go deeperArrowDec 2, 2019

Huawei gets a win on U.S. export waivers

Photo illustration: Budrul Chukrut/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

After months in which the Commerce Department indicated it might ease some trade restrictions on Chinese tech giant Huawei, some U.S. companies are beginning to receive waivers allowing them to supply Huawei with components, according to reports in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere.

Why it matters: U.S. companies were making millions of dollars selling chips, software and other components to Huawei until the Trump administration put the company on a trade blacklist, largely over national security concerns.

Go deeperArrowNov 21, 2019