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Five things you need to know about 5G, the next generation of wireless tech that’s fueling tensions between the US and China.There was a time when the world’s two great superpowers were obsessed with nuclear weapons technology. Today the flashpoint is between the US and China, and it involves the wireless technology that promises to connect your toaster to the web. The two countries are embroiled in a political war over the Chinese telecommunications company Huawei. The Americans have recently stepped up long-standing criticisms, claiming the tech giant has stolen trade secrets and committed fraud, and that it has ties to the Chinese government and its military. The company denies the charges and has sought to defend its record on privacy and security. Meanwhile, US allies including Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Germany, and Japan have all either imposed restrictions on Huawei’s equipment or are considering doing so, citing national security concerns. Behind the headlines, though, the spat is also about the coming wave of networking technology known as 5G, and who owns it.Here are five things you need to know about the technology and its role in the tensions.


1. WHAT IS 5G?


Since millimeter waves drop off over short distances, 5G will require more transmitters. A lot of them, sometimes just a few dozen meters apart. Connected devices will hop seamlessly between these transmitters as well as older hardware.


To increase bandwidth, 5G cells also make use of a technology known as massive MIMO (multiple input, multiple output). This allows hundreds of antennas to work in parallel, which increases speeds and will help lower latency to around a millisecond (from about 30 milliseconds in 4G) while letting more devices connect. Finally, a technology called full duplex will increase data capacity further still by allowing transmitters and devices to send and receive data on the same frequency. This is done using specialized circuits capable of ensuring that incoming and outgoing signals do not interfere with one another.




Stalling the company’s expansion into Western markets could have the convenient side effect of letting competitors catch up. But there are also legitimate security concerns surrounding 5G—and reasons to think it could be problematic for one company to dominate the space.The US government appears to have decided that it’s simply too risky for a Chinese company to control too much 5G infrastructure.The focus on Huawei makes sense given the importance of 5G, the new complexity and security challenges, and the fact that the Chinese company is poised to be such a huge player. And given the way Chinese companies are answerable to the government, Huawei’s apparent connections with the Chinese military and its cyber operations, and the tightening ties between private industry and the state, this seems a legitimate consideration.But the ongoing fight with Huawei also goes to show how vital new technology is to the future of global competition, economic might, and even international security.