According to recent reports, the United States government is considering building a 5G network, a step designed to bolster the country’s cyber security posture and guard against attacks, particularly from nation states believed to be conducting hostile acts of espionage. This information is alleged to have come from sensitive documents obtained by Axios. Per these documents, there appears some question as to whether the government would build and run it, leasing out access to national telecommunications carriers, or that wireless providers in the United States build their own 5G networks that would compete with one another. Another news source, reported similar findings, conveying that the government is interested in building a secure 5G network and will work with industry to accomplish this objective.
5G networks are wireless networks designed to improve connectivity for home broadband networks, as well as mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets and even self-driving cars – essentially Internet of Things devices. There are some indications that speed will improve 10 times that of current 4G capability. To provide some perspective to this marker, that’s sufficient to stream “8K” video or download a 3D movie in 30 seconds, according to one news outlet. A very substantial advantage is the closing the lag time between devices, making communication more streamlined and efficient.
There is skepticism if the government will actually fund such an endeavor, with estimated costs expected to balloon to hundreds of millions of dollars. Making connections stronger and communications more fluid would require more technology to be installed almost everywhere. Some believe that 5G networks will bolster current 4G network architecture supporting existing technology, indicating that a full 5G adoption an unlikely result.
Nevertheless, whether the government gets involved in this process or not, the four main carriers in the United States – Verizon, ATT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint – are all engaged in developing 5G technology meaning that the move toward the fifth generation of mobile networks is forthcoming. In late 2017, the first 5G specification was officially completed, covering a range of spectrum from 600 and 700 MHz bands to millimeter wave of the spectrum at 50 GHz.
Propelling forward on implementing a 5G network has been touted as a security consideration. Being able to develop a secure 5G network has been categorized as helping to curb hostile nation threats posed by governments like China that have been accused of conducting industrial and traditional espionage against U.S. public and private interests.
But it is also seen as a way to compete with China, which is considered as the leader in developing 5G technology. According to a company that tailors analysis and commentary for its clients, 5G technology will be in place by 2020 with more than a billion users by 2023, and more than half of that based in China.
It remains to be seen the extent – if any – of the United States government in spearheading a 5G rollout. In December 2017’s National Security Strategy statement, the president promised to improve “America’s digital infrastructure by deploying a secure 5G Internet capability nationwide.” Thus far, the president has tried to fulfill his promises, intimating that government may find a role for itself someplace in this effort. However, potential government intervention is not without its detractors. Critics, including the head of the Federal Communications Commission, believe that government involvement would be meddlesome, potentially hampering innovation and investment.
There are always reasons why something can’t happen – insurmountable obstacles, cost, disrupting the norm. Unfortunately, as history has proven, these often have trumped security considerations. Therefore, any government discussions of creating a new network with security in mind at the design level rather than after its completion and installment is very promising. Many times, new technologies are brought to market at the expense of its users for the sake of being the first and displaying innovation. Security continues to take a back seat to capitalizing on market share and making profit. This cycle needs to be broken if there is any true interest in improving cyber security. In this regard, government working closely with the telecommunications carriers in creating a 5G network would be advantageous, as long as it ensures that 5G network security remains a priority.
This is a guest post written by Emilio Iasiello