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A Winning Biden 5G Strategy: Flatten the Curve

No, not the COVID curve—the curve of U.S. engagement in global industry 5G activities. Let me explain.

What is known as 5G actually consists of a broad array of fundamentally revolutionary virtualization platforms that are constantly, collectively developed by industry in several dozen open global bodies. These bodies meet every few weeks, and several score companies around the world process scores to hundreds of input documents to produce many hundreds of effectively mandatory specifications for products and services, market segments, and evolutionary roadmaps. These venues are where the 5G markets are created, and alliances are formed. The venues also determine the security and trust capabilities for the entire supply chain—right up to the use in operation.

Understanding the importance and dynamics of this 5G activity ecosystem is esoteric and complex, but the “engagement” is actually observable and even measurable. First, some background.

Analysing the ecosystem patterns and evolution

About forty years ago, legendary former DARPA Director Lukasik, after he came to the FCC as head of the newly formed Office of Science and Technology, established an effort to use the U.S. government’s assets to assess the most important telecommunication and information technologies, and understand how those technologies were being manifested in the rapidly expanding new industry groups, and foster those efforts were appropriate. This activity has continued in a variety of ways over the past four decades, as significant evolutions in technologies, national strategies, and institutions occurred. It has been a core part of my own professional life.

Both the U.S. National Communications System (NCS) and the National Security Agency (NSA)—working together with industry—had seminal, large-scale strategic network infrastructure and security programmes that dated back to 1969. During the 1980s, the internet components—especially the SDNS (Secure Data Network System)—were highly successful and widely supported at the time. During this period, the U.S. Government also supported and helped orchestrate the insertion of the specifications for technologies into myriad global standards bodies—especially those of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and ISO SC6 (Telecommunications and information exchange between systems).

The U.S. was not the only country engaged in this strategic activity. In Europe, a similar array of public-private initiatives and industry venues emerged in most nations—especially relating to commercial mobile communication networks. The mobile efforts were extraordinarily successful and made the GSM (originally Groupe SpĂ©cial Mobile) platform the most pervasive and successful internet infrastructure worldwide. GSM is now under the aegis of the global industry consortium 3GPP, with continuing support from the ETSI Secretariat and technical bodies, and facilitated through the GSM Association. Today, these venues are the principal locus of the massive array of 5G collaboration for market and specifications development.

From the 1990s onward, this international strategic ecosystem evolved significantly. The U.S. Administration in the 1990s made a fateful decision to essentially disband its proven strategic programs in the sector in favor of a small ensemble of new activities revolving around a single communication platform—TCP/IP—promoting them collectively as “the Internet” and ascribing to a belief that the principal venues were sufficiently controlled by U.S. companies, and that the U.S. government needed only minimal cognizance and control. That tactic would prove a mistake with profound adverse consequences on multiple levels.

Meanwhile, from the 1990s onwards, European nations and companies increased their support for the highly successful GSM global platform and continued to expand engagement in the industry activities and evolve internet technologies. Some significant engagement of U.S. companies pursuing the rapidly expanding mobile internet market also occurred—even as its government agencies, except for NSA and FBI, lost their cognizance.

The success of the mobile venues and markets also proved very valuable to the principal Asian players, which had remained on the sidelines as their economies and technical capacities grew. Japan, and then Korea and China watched and then emulated the European and former U.S. strategies by scaling their engagement of their major companies and institutions in 3GPP, GSMA, ETSI, and other newly emerging global industry bodies. The activity included, to some extent, a few minor venues in ITU and ISO—which as they fell to the wayside - remained useful for a few niche platforms and curating work occurring elsewhere for promotional purposes. A special challenge emerged for U.S. government agencies that seemed largely unable to understand and bring about a strategic shift to the new venues after the turn of the century.

To some extent, the larger shape of the ICT global industry ecosystem has evolved along the lines established twenty years ago. As expected, the TCP/IP venues championed by the U.S. subsequently lost their market and strategic relevance, became institutional fiefdoms, and increasingly hostile to U.S. national security and infrastructure protection interests.

As innovation shifted to the world of virtualization and hyper-mobility, almost everything of global strategic relevance occurs in a well-defined array of related several dozen venues that meet almost constantly with the global engagement of everyone who has strategic or market interests, as well as essential national security and infrastructure protection needs.

The past four years have been especially disastrous for the U.S. engagement in the ecosystem, as its administration eschewed everything perceived as global, including meaningful understanding of what was occurring and participation in international activities. Network traffic walling and equipment banning became the prevailing orthodoxy. False narratives about American leadership and international cooperation were propagated. Even the industry venues themselves were singled out for condemnation, and impediments were emplaced on their work. It will be difficult for the new Biden Administration to undo the harms inflicted on the U.S., to re-establish an ability to understand reality within national policy-making activities and develop responsive strategies. However, effective solutions lie in the metrics and recent evolution of the patterns of engagement described below, which can be depicted graphically.

Patterns of 5G engagement

The outrageous misrepresentations by the Trump Administration concerning global 5G and related industry collaboration in global forums are simply flat-out lies. The reality of what is occurring can be easily seen by examining what can be called “patterns of engagement” that I have personally used over the past forty years to provide actual metrics of activities in international industry venues. Over the past seven years, since 5G virtualization developments began emerging, the same pattern analysis has been used for some of the principal 5G group activities—especially security, critical services, architectures, services, and compliance obligations. Two are shown here.

Three kinds of basic metrics are relatively easily generated for each meeting: contributed documents, participants, and recently because of virtual meetings, interventions during the meetings. It is also possible to generate additional substantive metrics such as new work items, degree of consensus, and approved group outputs. A few very current examples are illustrative.

The recently held 5G network architecture meeting known as SA2#142-e over four days last week had a pattern of input contributions that reveals 59 companies and organizations submitted 797 input contributions as follows.

The participation consisted of 309 people from 104 different companies and agencies from almost every major country. The U.S. participation consisted of 70 people from 25 different companies and agencies, compared to China, with 81 people from 12 different entities. In fact, the U.S. had the largest number of participants—more than twice of any other country.

Unfortunately, although the U.S. has a significant cross-section of companies and agencies participating, their actual engagement in the work by metrics such as input contributions is presently lacking. While this diminished engagement exists in many of the 5G venues, it varies across different ones.

Where other countries, especially China, excel, is better supporting, coordinating, and encouraging their companies to participate in these key global industry collaborative activities—ironically following a practice which the U.S. itself perfected three decades ago. Then, it was Telcordia or AT&T that enjoyed the lead position now occupied by Huawei, and a greater array of U.S. companies engaged in the activities—often with the assistance of U.S. government agencies. It is the very same strategy that the Trump Administration—which knows neither the history nor policies—now disingenuously castigates China for using.

Similar patterns are seen in other significant 5G venues. For example, in the recent 5G network services meeting known as SA1#92-e over ten days this month, 50 companies and organizations submitted 423 input contributions as follows.

The participation in this meeting consisted of 186 people from 86 different companies and agencies. The U.S. participation consisted of 47 people from 19 different companies and agencies compared to China, with 63 people from 16 entities. Here again, the U.S. consistently has the greatest number of participating entities. The contributions engagement curve here in the 5G services group is “flatter” than network architectures and has U.S. vendor Qualcomm in the lead.

Flattening and extending the 5G engagement curve is the winning strategy

Clearly, going forward, the winning 5G strategy for the U.S. in the 5G sector is to summarily dump most of the highly destructive Trump Twitter induced 5G madness and use the proven strategy the U.S. once excelled at. The challenge is to get more U.S. companies and government agencies to devote the resources to effectively pursue the most strategically important 5G opportunities for the nation. The U.S. possesses ample resources to make that occur. Indeed, it should make “flattening and extending the curve” a global mantra—to induce the innovative capacities that exist worldwide to collaborate and contribute to the ongoing activities.

The incoming Biden Administration should immediately pull together the government and private sector resources to actually understand the ICT virtualization revolution of which 5G is a part and provide the coordination, resources, and inducements for participation in the global bodies engaged in the work.

By Anthony Rutkowski, Principal, Netmagic Associates LLC

The author is a leader in many international cybersecurity bodies developing global standards and legal norms over many years.

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