Features and Analysis

Forget nationalizing 5G in the US; collaborate at Action Week in Portugal instead

I wonder if Donald Trump & Co. got the reaction they hoped for when a memo and Powerpoint presentation was leaked to news startup Axios this week about nationalizing the US 5G network. The documents conclude that such a move is necessary to guard against a perceived threat from Chinese infrastructure companies, but reaction to the idea was swift and almost universally in opposition.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai released this short but crystal-clear statement: “I oppose any proposal for the federal government to build and operate a nationwide 5G network. The main lesson to draw from the wireless sector’s development over the past three decades – including American leadership in 4G – is that the market, not government, is best positioned to drive innovation and investment. What government can and should do is to push spectrum into the commercial marketplace and set rules that encourage the private sector to develop and deploy next-generation infrastructure. Any federal effort to construct a nationalized 5G network would be a costly and counterproductive distraction from the policies we need to help the United States win the 5G future.”

Indeed, all five FCC commissioners came out against the idea, with Commissioner Michael O’Rielly adding: “I’ve seen lead balloons tried in D.C. before, but this is like a balloon made out of a Ford Pinto.”

AT&T reacted with this statement: “We can’t comment on something we haven’t seen. But, thanks to multi-billion dollar investments made by American companies, the work to launch 5G service in the United States is already well down the road. Industry standards have been set, trials have been underway since 2016, and later this year AT&T is set to be the first to launch mobile 5G service in 12 U.S. locations. We have no doubt that America will lead the 5G revolution.”

U.S. Representative Greg Walden, a Republican who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee, dismissed the idea outright, saying: “We’re not Venezuela. We don’t need to have the government run everything.”

And my favorite reaction was this Light Reading headline: “Nationalize 5G in the US? LOL, WTF?!”

But despite the resounding chorus of criticism, shares in AT&T dropped 1.7% in early trading on Monday, and Verizon fell 1.5%, indicating that at least the stock market was paying attention and thought the idea plausible. Because let’s face it, when Donald Trump is involved, anything at all seems possible.

What gives?

According to Axios, the leaked information came from the National Security Council, not from the Trump Administration. However, an administration official confirmed to Reuters that the idea of a nationalized 5G network has been discussed.

“We want to build a network so the Chinese can’t listen to your calls. We have to have a secure network that doesn’t allow bad actors to get in,” the source told Reuters. “We also have to ensure the Chinese don’t take over the market and put every non-5G network out of business.”

That’s some serious paranoia, and it makes me wonder whether this whole thing may not have been cooked up by Trump himself. There are many reasons why the administration may want to leak information about a proposed government-run 5G network or at least sanction such a leak.

It could be an attempted distraction from the ongoing and escalating Justice Department probe of possible Trump campaign involvement in Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election. Or perhaps more likely, it is political posturing on the heels of Trump’s appearance at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, last week. Marcus Weldon, CTO of Nokia and President of Bell Labs, tweeted that Trump discussed 5G at a dinner with executives in Davos.

Fear of globalization

It may be that Trump wants to appear as if he’s got a plan, no matter how far-fetched it is. This one would not be at all surprising coming from an administration fearful of globalization. It’s likely not coincidental that both AT&T and Verizon have recently dropped plans to sell Huawei phones, under pressure from the US government.

But Trump’s America-first platform borders on promoting isolationism and threatens to stifle free trade, which is exactly the opposite of what we should be pursuing in a world that is interconnected via jet airplanes and the internet. Collaboration is key in our interconnected world, and that was a central theme at Davos.

Countering fear with collaborative progress

Global collaboration is TM Forum’s mission. I’ll be heading to Lisbon this weekend to attend TM Forum Action Week, where a group of smart, hard-working and passionate members from every corner of the globe will gather to collectively address the biggest issues communications service providers (CSPs) are facing – and that includes developing global solutions to 5G management challenges. Folks from CSPs like AT&T, China Mobile, Orange, Telefónica, Telstra, Verizon and Vodafone will sit down with representatives from vendors such as Amdocs, Ericsson, Huawei, Netcracker, Nokia and ZTE to work out how best to handle everything from revenue assurance to platform business models and 5G network slicing.

When people ask me where I work, I tell them TM Forum is kind of like a mini United Nations – the UN of digital services. Each of the contributors may have their own agenda, but they all realize the intrinsic value and importance in cooperating.

And we aren’t the only place where this happens. Consider the Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP), a merger of two big open source network functions virtualization (NFV) orchestration and management initiatives: the AT&T-led ECOMP and China Mobile-led Open Orchestrator (OPEN-O) projects. This merger happened despite geo-political differences among members, because it’s impossible for companies to solve the big problems quickly on their own.

Collaboration is causing disruption

As Arpit Joshipura, General Manager of Networking & Orchestration at the Linux Foundation, noted during his keynote at our last Action Week in Vancouver in September, “No single vendor can create that kind of shared technology investment, and no single vendor or company can put 1,100 people on a project at the same time. It’s the shared technology and collaboration that is causing disruption.”

This collaborative work will continue even if a nationalized 5G network in the US becomes more than just a leak meant to stir the pot. There is no way to put the internet genie back in the bottle – the massive amount of interconnectivity that already exists and continues to grow exponentially worldwide demands that we focus on figuring out together how to make it safe and profitable for everyone.

Watch this space for news about Action Week next week. If you’d like to join the discussion in beautiful Cascais, Portugal, there’s still time to register.


    About The Author

    Managing Editor

    Dawn Bushaus began her career in technology journalism in 1989 at Telephony magazine, which means she’s been writing about networking for a quarter century. (She wishes she didn’t have to admit that because it probably gives you a good idea of how old she really is.) In 1996, Dawn joined a team of journalists to start a McGraw-Hill publication called tele.com, and in 2000, she helped a team at Ziff-Davis launch The Net Economy, where she held senior writing and editing positions. Prior to joining TM Forum, she worked as a freelance analyst for Heavy Reading.

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