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RACE-BAITING

Who’s winning the race to 5G? Uh, no one

Matt Chinworth for Quartz
  • Gwynn Guilford
By Gwynn Guilford

Reporter

Published Last updated on

Even if you’ve absorbed nothing else about 5G, you almost certainly know these three things: There’s a race to build it. China is winning. And that should make you afraid. (Or if you’re in China, thrilled.)

That framing has arisen in no small part because of the US trade war with China. Though the Trump administration calls it a “trade war,” the confrontation it has drawn China into swivels mainly on disagreement over technology policies—and 5G is a major piece of that. “We cannot allow any other country to out-compete the United States in this powerful industry of the future,” said Trump in April. “We are leading by so much in so many different industries of that type, and we just can’t let that happen. The race to 5G is a race America must win.”

The potential economic impact of 5G is of course huge. The US has focused its trade war aggression on one of the key players in the 5G buildout in particular: Huawei. The Shenzhen-based company is a telecom technology triple threat. It is the world’s biggest end-to-end vendor of 5G equipment, and—along with Nokia and Ericsson—one of only three in the world (though increasingly, Samsung is emerging as a competitor). It competes with Qualcomm, among others, for patents on many key 5G technologies, and is quickly advancing in the design of critical semiconductors. It also is the planet’s second-biggest handphone manufacturer (or it was before the US government started threatening its access to Google’s Android operating system).

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