5G

Commentary: Protecting Europe from China will strengthen the future of NATO

This op-ed originally appeared in EURACTIVE online on June 19, 2019

By: Douglas Lute

NATO, the world’s oldest and most successful alliance, recently turned 70 years old. As a report from Harvard’s Belfer Center explains, the Alliance faces a daunting array of challenges, including some that are familiar like defence spending and Russian aggression.

Other challenges are only now emerging and will become increasingly important in coming years. Especially pressing is the growing strategic competition between the Western alliance and China, which will likely dominate the world scene for the next several decades.

Today the competition with China is mostly economic, not military, but NATO members need to pay attention. Chinese economic investments today can lead to political influence tomorrow, and also have security implications. China’s annual foreign direct investment in Europe grew to $420 billion in 2017, a fifty-fold increase over a decade.

As part of the Belt and Road Initiative, China focuses investments on transportation and communications infrastructure, vital connections to Europe’s huge market with 500 million consumers and one-fourth of global GDP.

With these huge investments, China will gain political influence within European Union governments, as we have already seen in several cases. As political divisions widen within both NATO and the EU, cohesion erodes and these key institutions will struggle to attain consensus on how to address this challenge.

The competition with China includes emerging digital technologies that have significant security implications. Artificial intelligence, quantum computing, robotics and biotechnology may revolutionise warfare, perhaps on the scale of the changes brought on with the development of nuclear weapons in the early years of NATO.

Most attention today centres on the competition for 5G communications networks. While Chinese-made 5G infrastructure tends to be less expensive, it introduces new vulnerabilities because of the potential for the Chinese government to gain access to the networks and the data that travels across them.

Neither economic nor security concerns are likely to completely dominate in the European market as individual Member States weigh costs, benefits and risks. As it stands, the European 5G market is poised to contain a significant amount of Chinese infrastructure.

Economic factors can be balanced with security concerns. European governments can leverage contractual, regulatory and technological tools to mitigate security risks. For example, mandating interoperability between 5G technological components would ensure that one manufacturer, such as China’s Huawei, does not dominate the market.

Without careful coordination among allies to agree on reasonable security measures,  5G competition threatens to divide NATO and the EU politically, lead to barriers to integration, and reduce the overall benefit of 5G to European consumers.

While 5G is the current hot topic, it is just the beginning of competition with China in emerging technologies. In the coming decades, even more sophisticated data-based technologies will mean that both America and the European Union face a long term, geo-strategic competition with China.

Some of these technologies will have even more direct implications for national and Alliance security than 5G, changing fundamentally how NATO deters and, if necessary, fights wars.

Now is the time for NATO — and its most important partner, the EU – to wake up to the challenge from China, while it is still primarily economic and not yet military. Together, the US and NATO allies comprise about 50% of global GDP.

The trans-Atlantic alliance is a strategic advantage for both America and Europe that China cannot match – if we act together. As the competition with China is mainly economic and political, it should be a priority topic for US-EU and NATO-EU consultations.

For example, the US should welcome recent EU initiatives to implement measures to control foreign investment, similar to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). The competition for 5G in Europe is only the opening round in the strategic competition with China.

America and Europe, joined together in NATO, are stronger together.

Commentary: 5G Is The Essential National Security Imperative Of Our Time

By: Christopher Burnham

The hype around 5G is real—it will change how we communicate, travel, fight wars, drive (or not drive) cars, and educate our children. It will also change how doctors operate and treat and heal the sick. It is the most important modernization of our infrastructure that we can do until quantum computing is perfected. It is also the single most important national security imperative for the US for the next ten years.

In the race to 5G, it’s clear that the Chinese have an advantage because their government can tell companies “give back the spectrum we licensed to you”, and then reallocate it to where it can be the most effective in winning the 5G race. Spectrum in the US (think radio waves), has been given away or sold for pennies by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for decades. President Lyndon Johnson made $20 million getting the FCC to sell him radio and T.V. spectrum for two Texas stations for pennies back in the 1940s. That certainly has ended in recent years—just in the last four years the FCC has auctioned off two spectrum ranges for more than $50 billion.

Over the past forty years, spectrum for mobile phones, satellite communications and T.V., GPS services, and hundreds of other applications has been awarded by the FCC to jump-start the communications revolution we now take for granted. To fully implement 5G across all communities in the U.S., the FCC must now figure out how to allocate spectrum from the very lowest frequency to incredibly high millimeter wave frequency. The backbone will be (for lack of a better way to describe it) in the middle frequency—or the part that was given away for free to government satellite companies back in the 1960s, that then became the struggling satellite companies of today. This is known as “C-band spectrum”, and you will see the numbers 3.7 to 4.2 gigahertz associated with that band. C-band is what enables you to watch the championship basketball game on cable TV as it is the backhaul for ESPN and other networks.

However, C-band is not the only spectrum needed to fully implement 5G. Lower and higher frequencies are also needed. The trouble is, it’s a trade-off. Low frequency is great at going very long distances and can penetrate buildings, forests, even mountains and oceans if ultra-low frequency. That is how our submarines communicate back to the U.S. from deep within the ocean. The trouble is, low frequency also means low bandwidth. High frequency has enormous bandwidth. But it can only go very short distances, and rain, snow, trees, let alone buildings, can disrupt or block it. That is why at that end of the proposed 5G spectrum, you will need an antenna every couple 100 yards or so versus current cell phone towers today, which are miles apart.

What the FCC must now do is figure out how to get back all this spectrum and auction it to those cellular companies building the 5G backbone. Other countries have recently held highly successful auctions for this spectrum range. Some of the mid-band spectrum is also controlled by the U.S. military—and is essential for radar. Unused portions of this will need to be reallocated to the FCC for auctioning to 5G companies.

This piece originally appeared in Forbes on April 12, 2019.