Does 'G' Stand for Government? (Craig Douglass On Consumers)

5G: the fifth generation of wireless networks.

We’ve gone from 0G to 4G since Bell Labs in 1984 developed commercially viable cellular technology through individual cell sites making up a cellular network. The services in this evolution have matriculated from analog voice only, to digital voice and data, to voice with data and video, to higher speeds and internet-based protocols from internet service providers.

And it seems we can’t live without it. Individuals, business, health care, government — all rely on 4G technology to effectively function.

But 5G is coming. It’s currently being developed by the private wireless industry as the successor to 4G. It may be a couple of years away, though, because it will take time to build out the forecasted 300,000 new small-transmitter cell sites that will carry the necessary data to operate such things as self-driving cars and remotely operated industrial machinery. (Today, there are roughly 150,000 cell towers in the U.S.)

The next generation of wireless technology — more than just phone talk, live TV and downloading funny cat videos — will allow communication among sophisticated devices requiring superfast data transmissions. It will further enable “the internet of things.”

Axios, the news and information website founded in 2016 by Politico co-founders, reported recently on a Trump administration National Security Council document and PowerPoint presentation, which Axios obtained. The information, recently presented to “senior officials at other agencies in the Trump administration,” made the case for a federal build-out and government control of a portion of the nation’s cellular network. That portion would be new 5G technology.

The PowerPoint deck and accompanying memo were titled “Eisenhower National Highway System for the Information Age.” The reference, of course, is to the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, which became the National Interstate & Defense Highway Act — the interstate highway system — championed by President Dwight Eisenhower. The authors of the 5G presentation attempted a public-spirited motive for the recommendations by associating their logic with national defense, the genesis of the interstate system. Their national defense focus is on China.

Here’s an excerpt from the memo: “Data traverses cyberspace through a patchwork transport layer … enabled by an infrastructure overlaid by an even more complex cyber threat landscape. Comprised of nefarious actors with varying levels of sophistication and an array of malicious intent, the current cyber threat landscape challenges the ability to secure and ensure a reliable information space.” Sounds bad. And may be.

The documents, according to Axios, suggested two options regarding 5G technology. The first was the government would construct the 5G network. All of it. And pay for it. And own it. A nationalized wireless network, just like a national interstate highway system. The second was the private wireless industry would continue to build the new network. This second option would probably mean private industry coming together as a consortium to build the network they would all share, without competition among themselves for its use. The consortium approach would cause less disruption to the industry. But what happens to their business models?

Either way, there needs to be some additional control and security for the operation of the new network to protect America’s cyber integrity.

In citing China as the primary “nefarious actor” with “malicious intent,” government officials state that China has “achieved a dominant position” as a manufacturer of the kind of network infrastructure it will take to run 5G technology. And other manufacturers of network equipment are not American-owned.

Is there a disconnect in all of this? We recall our last month’s primer on net neutrality. This new Federal Communications Commission policy disengaged certain federal regulations of internet service providers, allowing the private marketplace to determine how internet traffic is managed. Now the government may be suggesting that it is best to take away from the private sector a new and advanced network on which it would operate. And nationalize it.

Wait, what?

Now it’s very clear from the above paragraphs that I’m not smart enough to figure all this out. But we better be aware of it, and fully mind not only our Ps and Qs, but also Gs.


Craig Douglass is an advertising agency owner, and marketing and research consultant. He is president of Craig Douglass Communications Inc. of Little Rock. Email him at Craig@CraigDouglass.com.