One of the greatest assets to United States national security is our global dominance in the technology sector. For decades, the United States has led in the development of next-generation technology used by civilians and the military alike.
President Trump signed an executive order May 15 banning any company that poses “an unacceptable risk” to the security of our nation’s telecommunications networks from doing work in the United States. The Department of Commerce followed suit, preventing “American technology from being used by foreign-owned entities in ways that potentially undermine U.S. national security or foreign policy interests.” These moves, while political in nature, were critically important to preserving America’s dominance in the tech sector and providing secure communications networks here at home and abroad in allied nations.
Wireless communications have revolutionized the way we do businesses, share intelligence and conduct military operations. The introduction of 4G brought with it the fastest wireless speeds commercially available. Coming on the market in 2010, it ushered in a new wave of technological innovations for both civilians and military powers. On deck is 5G, a network anticipated to be 100 times faster than 4G that will completely revolutionize the way we communicate.
5G will impact everything light touches — manufacturing, traffic, trade and, of course, intelligence and national security. That is why the 5G network here in the United States and with our Five Eyes partners — Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom — must be safe, secure and built by trusted vendors. President Trump’s move to ban Chinese telecommunications equipment ensures 5G in the United States will be the gold standard for performance and security. Now we must work with our allies in the Five Eyes to eliminate the risk China poses abroad.
The rise of Huawei and other Chinese tech firms like ZTE in global recognition is a part of a “Long March,” a well-coordinated effort by the Chinese government to become the world’s dominant economic superpower. Like most companies in China, Huawei is state-owned, receiving state-sponsored research and development grants that have taken the company from a small telecommunications company in 2009 to a global supplier today. These grants allow Huawei to offer their services at below-market costs, often at rates no other company can match.
Our allies have a complicated relationship with Huawei that is impacting how 5G will roll out abroad. Across Europe and other nations, Huawei equipment was used to build 4G networks, which has created a “lock-in” for 5G since the way networks have previously been designed. Only a Huawei 4G network can communicate with a Huawei 5G network. This relationship needs to change to stop Huawei’s global expansion into 5G.
Huawei’s biggest competitors are Ericsson and Nokia — trusted partners leading the way in secure networking absent backdoors and a state-sponsored overlord tied to an oppressive Communist regime. Now that the president has moved to ban Huawei and others here in the United States, we must work with our allies to force interoperability in Huawei 4G networks so nations can begin talks with Ericsson and Nokia to complete their 5G build out.
To push U.S. network manufacturers like Qualcomm and Cisco to the top of the heap the United States should provide grants and scholarships to accelerate research and development and further promote the global expansion of U.S. technology. Global policymakers in the telecommunications vertical must adopt standards such as interoperability that ensure that multiple vendors can compete and can be used in networks.
Today, international standards bodies like the Open Radio Access Network (O-RAN) and Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP) are working to ensure interoperability in 5G networks. The United States and our allies need to help foster continued conversations from these groups so that 5G is open to multiple vendors not just the Chinese.
While New Zealand and Australia have joined the United States in banning Huawei, nation’s such as the United Kingdom are still toying with the idea of letting them in. Prime Minister Teresa May has expressed interest in allowing Huawei in the “non-core” functions of the 5G network, permitting them at the Radio Access Level — antennas and transmitters. This would be a misstep, while the core is the central brain of the network, the Chinese would have a way into a network even if they are excluded from the core.
The Five Eyes have been a crucial part of stopping the global expansion of terrorism and cybercrime. The U.S. relationship with these countries is critical to protecting our citizens at home and our globally deployed service members. Our intelligence community will not be able to trust the information traveling on networks left open to Chinese state surveillance. No U.S. partner should be able to contract with a Chinese telecommunications company to build 5G. Among allies and partners, disagreement is healthy. We can not disagree here.
James “Spider” Marks is a retired U.S. Army major general and president of the Marks Collaborative corporate advisory firm.