As the promise of the next-generation mobile communications technology becomes clearer, policymakers are increasingly focusing on the technological and policy foundations of 5G leadership. The mobile revolution has already delivered unimagined benefits the world over from innovative apps delivering healthcare services to remote villages in developing countries to the equally innovative development of the “sharing economy” with Uber and Airbnb. 5G promises to go even further. It will not be merely a marginal improvement over the previous generations of cellular standards but will instead bring what many have called the “next industrial revolution.”1 5G will make everything more interconnected and efficient—from financial services to national defense to power grids to basic utilities provided in smart cities. Estimates predict that by 2035 5G will contribute over $13.2 trillion to the global economy.2
Given the importance that 5G will have for the US innovation economy, policymakers have focused on promoting and securing 5G leadership. They have also become concerned about the national security implications of 5G leadership for at least two reasons. First, they are concerned about economic and other vulnerabilities being exploited by potential adversaries via foreign entities manufacturing or owning the underlying physical infrastructure.3 Second, they are concerned about the national security implications of simply falling behind in technological leadership as such.4 In sum, 5G technological leadership matters both for economic growth and for national security.
The policy discussion about 5G leadership, though, has been mired in confusion. 5G represents a complex technological and commercial ecosystem, and commentary about 5G leadership has been misdirected by mistaken assumptions. In the interest of promoting policy discussions grounded in the proper technological and economic evidence, this Statement highlights two essential facts that must inform all discussions about 5G leadership: (1) 5G hardware and infrastructure is only one of the many layers of a much larger 5G ecosystem, and (2) patent counting is an unreliable methodology to identify the leading 5G technological innovators.
To view the full 5G Technological Leadership statement and list of endorsing signatories, click the link below.