Why Companies and Countries Are Battling for Ascendancy in 5G

New York Times

Don Clark and Cecilia Kang
March 6, 2018


SAN FRANCISCO — Being at the forefront of a new technology often provides a strategic advantage. That helps explain why there is so much scrapping now by companies and countries over a next wave of wireless technology known as 5G.

5G is shorthand for fifth-generation wireless technology, and it essentially brings ultrafast wireless speeds to people. By sending billions of bits of data per second, up from peaks of hundreds of millions today, 5G could cut the time to download a movie to seconds. Other 5G features would allow autonomous cars and industrial equipment to reliably exchange short bursts of data at blinding speed.

Technology companies including Qualcomm, Intel and China’s Huawei have been working on developing 5G technology and standards. But even with 5G still in its infancy, the United States government underscored its importance with an unprecedented move this week to intervene in Broadcom’s $117 billion bid for Qualcomm.

In a letter on Monday, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States said it would investigate the proposed deal, partly because it was concerned that if Broadcom bought Qualcomm, it would weaken Qualcomm and “leave an opening for China to expand its influence on the 5G standard-setting process.”

Broadcom, which is based in Singapore but is planning a move to the United States, swiftly rejected the idea that it would push 5G development less aggressively. “There can be no question that an American Broadcom-Qualcomm combination will provide far more resources for investments and development to that end,” a Broadcom spokesman said.

Companies still have room to influence 5G technology because it has not yet been deployed. As of now, a group called 3GPP — staffed by engineers from many companies — has been defining the specifications so that devices that operate with 5G technology can “talk” to one another. The group delivered its first major set of standards in December.

Mike Thelander, an analyst with Signals Research Group, predicted that American carriers will have some 5G services operating in late 2018 but that smartphones that use the technology won’t be ready until 2019.

Qualcomm has long been one of the most active contributors of cellular technology, playing a particularly influential role in 3G technology as well as current 4G networks. Yet the effort to develop 5G standards has brought many new players to the fore, including Huawei, a relative newcomer to the field.