As 5G connectivity continues to roll out across the country, the government is trying to solve a major technology challenge as it looks for alternatives to Huawei's dominance in telecom equipment. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the government is in active conversations with tech companies including Microsoft, Dell, and AT&T about creating a set of standards that would make it possible to better integrate software and hardware from U.S.-based companies.
While Huawei is the leading manufacturer of the technology used in building out 5G networks, it has been under scrutiny because of its relationship with the Chinese government, specifically the military. That connection raises concerns that using the company's hardware may raise national security risks.
"The big-picture concept is to have all of the U.S. 5G architecture and infrastructure done by American firms, principally," says White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow.
Huawei has denied that it is linked to the Chinese government, arguing that it operates independently and that its hardware does not pose any such risk. The U.S. has gone so far as to ban the use of Huawei components and demanded that its allies do the same. That move has created tension with other countries, including the United Kingdom, which have announced that they will allow companies to use them anyway.
Both consumers and businesses are anxious for the broader availability of the ultrafast wireless that comes with 5G, which means that both tech companies and the government are under pressure to deliver. The Journal reports that the administration considered providing funding for a direct competitor to Huawei or building out a government-owned 5G network. Both of those options were rejected.
That report also says that the White House expects to have a standard in place within 18 months. That could be overly optimistic considering how far ahead Huawei is at developing this technology. Having to start from scratch for companies not used to building this type of highly specialized equipment could mean that the U.S. will fall behind in its effort to cover the country with 5G.
The overall effort is further complicated by both the fact that mobile networks use highly specialized equipment that doesn't usually integrate across platforms, as well as the impact 5G could have on the economy. That means that there is pressure to build out networks as quickly as possible at a time that the equipment needed is limited. While other manufacturers like Nokia and Ericsson make telecom components, neither do so at the scale of Huawei.
The rollout of 5G networks is supposed to bring about dramatic changes to the way we work and communicate, and not just for smartphones. It has real implications for remote workers, manufacturing, telemedicine, and supply chain management. Those changes could have a broad impact on the larger economy as companies take advantage of the new opportunities that come with ultrafast, low-latency wireless.
And, in many ways, 5G promises to solve many of the problems that come with our existing networks, especially related to bandwidth and latency. Those solutions, however, could be stalled if the government can't first solve its Huawei problem.