Links We Like – The Dispute Over 5G

Andrés Lozano, Maria Antonia Bravo, Maria Camila Gomez News

Week 4:

The Dispute Over 5G

China and the United States are the biggest adversaries on the dispute over who will control one of the main technological advances in recent history: 5G, or fifth generation cellular network technology. 5G promises to connect everything. As Will Knight from the MIT Technology Review points out, these technologies “will replace cable connections and open the door for many more devices to connect and update through the Internet, including home appliances and industrial machines.” It is expected that through its wireless infrastructure, 5G will provide a bandwidth of up to 20 gigabits per second (equal to a speed 100 times faster than 4G), according to Knight: “enough for hospital devices that rely on 5G’s ever-present, never-lagging bandwidth to run perfectly”. 

Headlines all over the world have honed in on the dispute between the United States and China, countries aware of the potential of 5G, and eager to control the construction of these networks around the world. It is believed that whomever becomes the pioneer of 5G network development will reap the benefits of “developing and monetizing services that use them”, according to Elizabeth Woyke. The implication of such would be becoming a world leader in the Internet of Things (IoT). 

In this week’s Links We Like, we feature articles that explain what exactly 5G is, as well as point out how and why the dispute over 5G is unfolding.

Self-driving cars, efficient healthcare, and smart cities are just some of the potential areas of impact for fifth-generation technology. CP Gurnani, Managing Director and CEO of Tech Mahindra, writes for WEF that “the potential for disruption is enormous and those who prepare well for 5G, have much to gain.” The principal differentiator for the 5G network is its low-latency capability, making real-time, actual real-time,  without the very small lag of current networks. For Gurnani, however, cost, regulation, access, and infrastructure are still items that need to be addressed as we gear up for 2020, the year when 5G is expected to become commercially available.

5G is one of the issues affecting the brewing tensions between China and the US. According to The Economist, the two powers are contesting all domains that may tip the balance in global leadership, including Artificial Intelligence, trade, and even chipmaking. 5G is the technology at the forefront of this confrontation, as illustrated by the recent US ban on Huawei, a Chinese company at the cutting-edge of 5G implementation. “In crucial technologies such as chipmaking and 5G”, the article notes, “it is hard to say where commerce ends and national security begins.”

Daniel M. Gerstein, senior policy researcher at the RAND corporation and former US DHS Under Secretary for the Science & Technology Directorate, notes that control of fifth-generation cellular wireless networks and supply chains is akin to a technological Cold War: ensuring leadership in the technology entails that U.S interests “are protected across networks that offer vastly greater speed and capacity.” Being at the losing end of such a battle would put on the line both control of the network, and internet security. Putting scientific discovery solely at the hands of the private industry is not enough, according to Gerstein, and current debate on 5G proves such a point. 

Maciej Kranz, current EVT and CTO at KONE, mentions that the increases in 5G wireless networks and low earth orbiting (LEO) satellites, will provide high speed internet access to more than half a billion farms around the world. In turn, new educational opportunities will open for those in rural areas who do not have access to physical classrooms, as the possibilities for online education increase. Additionally, the combination of IoT and internet access facilitated by 5G, can improve the decision making process for farmers, decreasing their risks of crop failure. 

While the race for 5G unfolds and the US and China compete to reap its benefits, it is important to also focus on how leadership in 5G will tip the balance on access to the network facilitated to other countries. While 5G has great potential for development – probably much more than we’re able to convey in this short post – these opportunities will go unrealized if access is not guaranteed. For this reason, continued developments in regulating the access to the internet, which the UN recently discussed in a declaration as an “enabler of human rights and the fulfilment of the SDGs” – will also be a key determinants to fully attain the benefits that society can gain from this technology.

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