Saying China is poised to become the global leader in 5G and AI, the US government has suggested mandating 5G standards to protect its physical and virtual borders, as well as working with allies to deploy 5G in developing nations, according to documents Axios reported as being prepared by a senior US government official.
The Trump Administration is considering setting standards for a secure nationwide 5G mobile network to be used by both civilians and military weapons, in addition to signing up allies to help deploy 5G to developing nations in order to “inoculate” them against China, according to alleged leaked government documents published by Axios.
According to the PowerPoint presentation and accompanying memo titled “Secure 5G: The Eisenhower National Highway System for the Information Age”, which Axios said were produced by a “senior national security council official”, the United States must build a centralised 5G network over the next three years due to the rising dominance of China.
5G will form both a “defensive perimeter” protecting US information against cyber attacks or involvement by malicious state actors while also enabling the use of data-intensive physical weaponry, the alleged government memo says.
It adds that currently, even the US Department of Defense (DoD) is “unprepared for the information age”.
“The vaunted F-35 is incapable of being used to its full potential, because the data rates on our current networks preclude the full use of its data collection. Soon it will be joined by other advanced aircraft that are similarly data monsters,” the alleged memo states, referring to America’s latest problematic fighter jet.
The alleged memo also refers to the B-21 Raider stealth bomber; the P-8 Poseidon military aircraft, which Boeing said is used for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; the Aegis Combat System, which intercepts medium-range ballistic missiles; and the F-35 stealth fighter, which Lockheed Martin says uses sensor technology.
Using one 5G network for such military-grade applications and another for everyday internet access is too costly, the alleged memo argues.
“Building a secure, resilient, layered, and global 5G network will transform how the Joint Force operates and allow for the full use of data-intensive weapons systems like Aegis, P-8, F-35, and B-21 … in the Air Force alone, efforts to get the F-22 and F-35 to communicate require purpose-built gateways,” the alleged memo explains.
“An advanced, resilient, and secure network that is shared with the public will allow federal communications to blend in with other traffic, increasing security, improving joint synergy, and reducing program costs. Continuing to ride on our own networks is like building two Eisenhower National Highway systems, one for civilian traffic and one for military traffic. We couldn’t afford that in the 1950s physical domain, and we can’t afford [that] in the 21st Century information domain.”
The 5G network should also be built with “active defence” as a concern, the alleged memo adds.
“As we learned in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the first step in asserting control over chaos is to take away anonymity. A network that identifies the adversary and responds to attack is [a] fundamental requirement of the information age,” it says.
“National security becomes an important driver for deployment. Much like concertina wire on a beach facing assault, or a city wall meant to keep out bandits, the case can be made that a nationwide secure network is required to create a defensive perimeter in the information domain. Since we are afforded the benefit of two large oceans for our physical defence, why not build the equivalent situation in the information domain?”
The US government must therefore “provide clear direction and strong leadership” on building a 5G network by the end of President Donald Trump’s first term, the alleged PowerPoint presentation says.
It suggests that this be done by making spectrum in the 3.7-4.2GHz band available quickly; standardising wireless, network, site requirement, and infrastructure specifications; ensuring the deployment of fibre networks nationwide via “an enforced requirement to lay fibre alongside any other construction” to provide 100Mbps speeds to 80 percent of the rural population; “strongly” signalling to equipment vendors the intent for a secure 5G supply chain; and signing up allies to “cooperatively build” similar 5G networks and collaborate on building them in emerging markets globally.
Pointing to former President Dwight D Eisenhower’s interstate and President John F Kennedy’s space program as examples of “inspired leadership” by the US, the alleged government slide deck says the nation must take the 4G-5G move as an “opportunity to build it securely … Otherwise, China will win politically, economically, militarily”.
According to the documents, Chinese tech giant Huawei has become a leader in 5G networking technologies due to support from the Chinese government — with China itself becoming “the dominant malicious actor in the information domain” — while noting the disappearance of US telecommunications manufacturers.
“Huawei has used market-distorting pricing and preferential financing to dominate the global market for telecommunications infrastructure. China sets aside up to 70 percent of its mobile infrastructure market for Huawei and ZTE, only allowing Western vendors to compete for the remainder,” the alleged government memo says.
“The magnitude of the Chinese market reserved to Huawei and ZTE allows the companies to effectively fund their R&D with domestic sales while insulating the companies against global infrastructure spending downturns. The government has also extended an estimated $100 billion line of credit to Huawei to finance deals abroad. Combined with aggressive pricing, diplomatic support, and suspected payments to local officials, Huawei has quickly taken market share in the radio infrastructure market as well as optical and routing, leaving them poised to take market leadership of 5G.”
Huawei has thus surpassed Western companies Ericsson and Nokia in radio infrastructure, and US networking giant Cisco in routing, the alleged memo contends.
As only Cisco, Nokia, Ericsson, Samsung, Qualcomm, Juniper, Huawei, and ZTE are set to take part in 5G deployments globally, the alleged memo explains that US 5G networks will therefore “debut on equipment from just this small group of companies, which would include Chinese suppliers unless informal restrictions against their inclusion in national networks are maintained for 5G networks”.
The FBI is continuing to monitor market activity by Huawei and ZTE, according to the alleged memo, with a suggestion that the agency be permanently tasked with reporting to Congress the national security risks associated with using Chinese vendors for domestic networks.
The suggestion of signing up allies among foreign nations to partner with the US on its 5G network, meanwhile, would produce the “long-term effect to be a lessening of Huawei’s global dominance”, and building American-standardised 5G networks in developing markets through joint finance efforts with these allies could “help inoculate developing countries against Chinese neo-colonial behaviour”, the alleged memo says.
Also citing the artificial intelligence (AI) “arms race”, the alleged US government memo continues that China is similarly on the verge of winning in this sphere — which the memo compares to previous competition over nuclear weaponry.
“The current algorithm battles are slowly drifting in China’s favour as companies like Google build AI research centres inside China’s information sphere and world-class data scientists mine the data (ours and theirs) without restraint,” the alleged memo states.
“China has already catapulted into the lead for facial recognition to support its authoritarian regime. Much like America’s success in the competition for nuclear weapons, China’s 21st Century Manhattan Project sets them on a path to getting there first.”
POSSIBLE US 5G STANDARDISATION
According to the alleged government documents, the US is looking into various aspects of how it can standardise national and international 5G deployment, while citing the benefits of security, prosperity, allied cooperation (“Japan all in”), and the information age.
“What type of network should we build — single block or multi block? What spectrum can we make available? Can we standardise siting requirements? Can we rebuild a telecommunications manufacturing base in the US? Can we elicit allies and partners to build with US? Can we elicit allies and partners to jointly grow these networks in the developing world?”
A single-block network would require a single network to be virtually shared by all retail service providers — a tough sell to the carriers, which have been investing in building out their own infrastructure, the alleged memo notes — but a multi-block network would be less secure, according to the alleged documents.
Only Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile currently have nationwide 5G spectrum in the 28GHz, 2.5GHz, and 600MHz bands, respectively, the alleged government papers note, with the 28GHz band the only real major 5G enabler. The government could make more 28GHz spectrum available, but sales “can take as long as seven years”, while the FCC could have a mid-band (3.7-4.2GHz) solution ready in six to eight months, it says.
There are no cons listed for standardising site specifications in the memo.
“Current efforts to build 5G networks in the United States have struggled with local siting requirements. For example, Ericsson is struggling with deployment of a 5G network in Seattle, because each municipality has unique processes for getting approval to deploy,” the alleged memo says.
“These can include different format for drawings, different pole mounts, and/or different aesthetics for the equipment. Additionally, some municipalities want to charge a fee, thus increasing both expense and deployment time. The bottom line is that a three-year deployment time is not achievable without a nationwide standard for siting.”
Equipment manufacturers could then move their manufacturing facilities to the US for 5G “in time to allow for a three-year deployment timeline”, it says.
However, while saying a nationwide 5G deployment within three years would be “faster than anyone is currently predicting”, Korea is launching a network next month for the Winter Olympics in partnership with Intel.
Across the US, carriers are already building out their own 5G networks, with Verizon planning on launching a 5G network in Sacramento in the second half of 2018, AT&T to provide 5G to 12 markets by the end of 2018, T-Mobile beginning a 5G rollout in 2019, and Sprint undertaking 5G trials with Ericsson.
While Intel is partnering with several US carriers on 5G, and is running interoperability trials with Huawei, no Huawei involvement in US 5G networks has been announced as yet.
ZDNet has sought comment from Huawei.