The Trump administration's latest efforts to bolster the nation's cybersecurity took an unusual twist this week after published reports surfaced about a plan to nationalize the country's 5G network.
The plan, which was first reported by Axios, would have the government pay for 5G network development as a bulwark against China and a way to ensure national security. (See Unknown Document 740095.)
But if the Trump administration and the National Security Council, which actually drafted the plan, felt they had a reasonable case to make for nationalization, critics were quick to respond with a heavy dose of skepticism. Detractors emerged not only from the telecom industry, but from the security field as well. (See Unknown Document 740107)
On Twitter, there was plenty of discussion about how impractical building a nationalized 5G network would be:
Just to be completely clear: the first version of the 5G NR standard, which is called "NSA" (Non-Standalone), by definition requires an existing 4G radio and core network. One cannot simply build out a complete NSA 5G network without having a 4G network already in place.— Sherif Hanna 📶 (@sherifhanna) January 29, 2018
Almost immediately after the Axios report surfaced, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai, who supported the administration's net neutrality plans, also released a statement declaring that the private sector, not the government, should make decisions about 5G, even if there is a security component to consider.
"Any federal effort to construct a nationalized 5G network would be a costly and counterproductive distraction from the policies we need to help the United States win the 5G future," Pai wrote.
CTIA, which represents the wireless industry, issued a similar statement: "The wireless industry agrees that winning the race to 5G is a national priority. The government should pursue the free market policies that enabled the U.S. wireless industry to win the race to 4G."
The main thrust of the nationalization plan is to protect US businesses from Chinese competition, as well as to secure 5G infrastructure from cyberattacks, especially as 5G becomes critical to developments ranging from autonomous and connected cars to broader artificial intelligence applications. (See Unknown Document 740117.)
"A PowerPoint slide says the play is the digital counter to China's One Belt One Road Initiative meant to spread its influence beyond its borders," according to the Axios report. "The documents also fret about China's dominance of Artificial Intelligence, and use that as part of the rationale for this unprecedented proposal."
In an email to Security Now, Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, noted that the US has a bad track record of nationalizing these types of services.
In addition, the federal government, especially the military, already has its own private communications networks to help protect against cyberattacks, so building a whole network that has private and public uses would not actually help.
"In the short term, there are benefits of shared risk and investment but in the long run, natural market forces are the right way to go as competition weeds out economic anomalies," Moorhead wrote in the email. "I can see the government building a private network for the military to ensure a higher probability of it not getting hacked, but not for the public use. What many people don’t know is that the government already has a few, private networks of its own."