Considerations Regarding America’s Latest 5G Strategy
At the end of March, the White House quietly released its National Strategy to Secure 5G, outlining the Trump Administration’s approach to securing fifth generation communications infrastructure at home and abroad. It was published concurrently with the president’s signing of the Secure 5G and Beyond Act, signaling alignment from the executive and legislative branches to advance American leadership in this space.
Although officials note that the subsequent implementation plan will be much more detailed, it’s worth taking a closer look at the strategy’s main thrusts. In this article, I recap the strategy’s four lines of effort and offer additional considerations for decision-makers.
Line of Effort 1: Facilitate Domestic 5G Rollout
This section stresses the viewpoint that the federal government’s role is to support the private sector-led domestic rollout of 5G. It recaps the importance of existing policies such as the Federal Communication Commission’s strategy to Facilitate America’s Superiority in 5G Technology and the Sustainable Spectrum Strategy for America’s Future. Collectively, these documents seek to update infrastructure policy and streamline regulations to encourage 5G investment and innovation within the U.S.
Considerations: A successful domestic rollout will depend heavily on local government cooperation. Urban planning for the new 5G architecture, namely the placement of small cell towers, is regulated by local officials. But while the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is sprinting forward to lower the cost of 5G deployment, some local governments have voiced legitimate concerns regarding servicing to rural areas—despite efforts from the White House to expand nationwide broadband. 5G deployment will still take years to roll out and major cities will reap early benefits due to existing infrastructure. However, we should be careful not to widen the digital divide at a time when approximately 30% of Americans are still without internet.
Line of Effort 2: Assess Risks to & Identify Core Security Principles of 5G Infrastructure
The next line of effort discusses a multi-stakeholder approach to collectively identify, develop, and apply security principles to U.S. 5G infrastructure, focusing on cybersecurity, supply chain risk management, and public safety. Cyber threats and vulnerabilities, to both space and terrestrial 5G components, will also be regularly assessed for impacts to national or economic security.
Considerations: Though the federal government is laser focused on risks to the equipment components of 5G infrastructure, it would be dangerous to dismiss the threat from upstream dependencies and continue to operate in disciplinary silos. For instance, 5G will require highly accurate time synchronization throughout the entire network. To date, most network operators rely on the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS) as a primary timing source. With research emerging about the range of threats to GPS from adversary nations, it is unclear if operators are even aware of their potential over-dependency. White House officials were alarmed enough to release an executive order on the topic earlier this year, however the 5G and GPS community have yet to meaningfully engage. Talk of GPS spectrum reallocation has also caused the Defense Department considerable distress.
Line of Effort 3: Address Risks to the United States Economic and National Security During Development and Deployment of 5G Infrastructure Worldwide
The third pillar calls upon the federal government to ensure national critical functions and national essential functions remain resilient in the face of 5G supply chain threats. It references ongoing supply chain risk management efforts under the Federal Acquisition Supply Chain Security Act of 2018 and the Executive Order on Securing the Information and Communications Technology and Services Supply Chain.
Considerations: It is no secret that U.S. 5G supply chain security efforts have targeted Chinese technology giant, Huawei, due to concerns about state-sponsored espionage. Despite America’s vocal opposition, approximately 54 countries have allowed Huawei into their mobile networks, while only Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Taiwan and the U.S. have adopted an outright ban. The politicization of 5G security has pushed America into a defensive position. Instead of spending a majority of its energy fighting an uphill battle to convince the international community of undue risk, the U.S. should look to strengthen its competitive advantages during this critical stage of technology development.
Line of Effort 4: Promote Responsible Global Development and Deployment of 5G
The final section covers steps the U.S. should take, along with like-minded countries, to “lead the responsible international development and deployment of 5G technology.” It leverages the work accomplished during the Prague 5G Security Conference and promises public-private cooperation on international standards development bodies. It also seeks to advance 5G vendor diversity to foster market competition.
Considerations: A primary avenue for international 5G standards development is the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), a group that has shaped prior generations of cellular technology. In recent years, the U.S. has deprioritized representation at this forum at the same time China has made a concerted effort to increase its participation. Frankly, this may be the most challenging line of effort to make headway on. It require proper resourcing, as up to eight standards bodies are involved, and the American experts who attend should have decision-making authority to advance meaningful security and innovation benchmarks.