The U.S. government’s “dithering” has left the country “well behind” China in the race to build out 5G technology, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt said, as he urged Washington to step up investment in the next-generation internet technology.
Writing in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Schmidt and Graham Allison, a professor of government at Harvard, said that America is “far behind in almost every dimension of 5G while other nations—including China — race ahead.”
The authors urged the Biden administration to make 5G a “national priority.” Otherwise, they said, “China will own the 5G future.”
5G refers to next-generation wireless internet that promises super-fast download speeds. But it could also form the basis for industrial and military applications and form a way for devices to communicate with each other. That’s why it’s seen as a critical technology and one of the reasons China is moving quickly with its own 5G rollout and future applications.
“The step up to real 5G speeds will lead to analogous breakthroughs in autonomous vehicles, virtual-reality applications like the metaverse, and other areas that have yet to be invented,” Schmidt and Allison wrote. “Applications abound that could advantage a country’s intelligence agencies and enhance its military capabilities.”
The pair also accused the U.S. of falling behind in a number of areas. They said that China’s average 5G download speed is significantly faster than the U.S.’s.China’s median download speed was just over 299 megabits per second in the third quarter of 2021 versus 93.73 megabits per second in the U.S., according to Speedtest, a company which measures internet speeds.
“Mobile internet speed is a central advancement of 5G, which enables a new domain of breakthrough applications with potent economic and national-security implications,” Allison and Schmidt said.
The authors also said that Huawei, China’s biggest telecommunications equipment maker, still dominates the market “although American sanctions have hurt Huawei.”
Meanwhile, China has been “rapidly allocating the most efficient part” of the wireless spectrum, called midband, to telecommunications companies. The authors claimed that AT&T and Verizon are using the same spectrum band for both their 4G and 5G networks in the U.S.
Allison and Schmidt also said that China is outspending the U.S. when it comes to 5G.
“The pathetic U.S. performance in the 5G race is a sign of America’s larger failure to keep up with China on strategically important technologies. China is also ahead of America in high-tech manufacturing, green energy and many applications of artificial intelligence,” they said.“On current trajectories, by 2030 it will likely lead the U.S. in the number of semiconductor chips it produces and in applications of biotechnology to defeat diseases like cancer.”
Schmidt has been critical of the U.S. government’s approach to technologies he views as key to the future and has warned on several occasions about the threat of China overtaking.
Last year, a report by the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, which Schmidt chairs, said China could soon replace the U.S. as the world’s “AI superpower” and that could have serious military implications to consider.