A strange headline has been making waves recently – one saying that the Trump Administration, and the US government in general, is considering development of a nationalized 5G data network.
This is peculiar not only because major providers like Verizon have already been laying out their plans for implementing 5G networks, but also because this administration and the general wave of politics in Washington has been against government intervention – particularly in situations where historically private infrastructure is left to private companies. However, when it comes to government involvement in cyber security, things are a bit different.
Government Intervention in 2018?!
This seemingly unusual suggestion may actually gain momentum, and it may be because the underlying logic, from both a security and economic development perspective, may be too compelling for any “side of the aisle” to deny.
There are two primary motivations, mainly spurred on by competition with China (and to a lesser degree by Western Europe). According to a presentation that was originally shared on Axios about the possibility of a nationalized 5G network, the acceleration of the 5G technology development is a key motivator. Where American companies (perhaps with some Scandinavian companies) led the 4G network development, the Chinese are now leading the charge (via companies like Huawei and ZTE) in developing 5G networks.
Powering the Fourth Industrial Revolution
5G is different, and arguably a bigger turning point than any different data network, because of the technologies that it will serve as the backbone for. Advanced IoT applications, self-driving cars, and more rich and mobile media delivery, are all expected to enable a new wave of economic activity and growth.
The economy of the future is as vulnerable as the technology it’s built on. If the aforementioned technologies are built on an insecure, segmented or otherwise fragmented network, their benefits will not be as universal or secure as possible. There’s potential that nations who fail to take up 5G as a national project could end up being less economically competitive than those that do.
More specific to the security threats, the FBI is also concerned about major communications infrastructure being developed by or using hardware from a foreign entity. Given the current political climate with China (and a history of cyber warfare and industrial espionage against the United States and other Western powers), along with existing policies towards data protection from the likes of Huawei, ZTE and Kaspersky, it should come as no surprise that nationalist security policy may alter the path of development for a US 5G network.
Without a doubt, if the US were to ban Huawei and ZTE tech in infrastructure there would an important gap to fill, with the US lagging in 5G development. Huawei, Ericsson and Nokia are the 3 leaders in this sort of radio technology. None of them, evidently, are American.
As the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” progresses, the development of common data infrastructure will continue to reach beyond the concerns of private businesses. This is a concern not just for mega-corporations, but smaller companies as well, who not only benefit from this infrastructure, but are also more vulnerable to any security risks it poses.
Towards A National Security Network
“National Network Security” may become the next buzz-phrase. With the electrical grid, smart home heating system and millions of self-driving cars connected to a 5G network, there will be a pressing need for security at every access point. Whether nationalizing the network itself is the solution or not, its clear that government and regulators will be implicated in some way (beyond just building backdoors for spying).
Effective 5G implementation will lead to competitive advantages in IoT, machine learning, AI and more. With less lag and more throughput, jobs using automation or semi-automation of multiple devices and endpoints will also become more common. Relationships between these endpoints will also grow more complex, lending itself to more security flaws (Imagine “Speed”, but with ransomware on a whole generation of self-driving cars).
A Good And Necessary Debate to Be Had
Nationalizing this network may disrupt private investment and earnings of major telecom companies, but it is assumed by the slide presentation that public investment will be both accelerated and exceed what the private sector is capable of or willing to spend. It also should be assumed that this project would employ the private companies specializing in the network development, much like highway infrastructure projects, the development of which is also widely referenced in the slide presentation.
Ultimately, this pie in sky thinking is perhaps welcome if it can be shown to actually improve national network security, cynical as we might be of the government. As we move to an era of ever increasing connectivity, the stakes are becoming higher. The need for a comprehensive strategy is pressing. At the very least, that this is being considered for cyber security purposes is encouraging.
- Have a look at the proposed document outlining the logic and plan for Nationalizing the 5G Network From Axios.
- 5G Networks promise a lot of new bite. Check out Cnet’s overview. Let’s hope a lack net neutrality isn’t an issue.
- Take a read of this interesting paper to get a rich perspective from another Angle. Nations or Sectors in the Age of Globalization: China’s Policy Toward Foreign Direct Investment in Telecommunications