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5G matters: (Geo)politics and critical national infrastructure

By Danielle Cave

In January 2020 Danielle Cave contributed an essay for the Raisina Dialogue hosted by India’s largest think-tank The Observer Research Foundation (ORF) as part of ORF’s Raisina Edit series:

“Few people would have guessed that the ‘topic du jour’ for 2019 would be 5G. While telecommunications companies have long had their eye on the prize as the chief deployers of fifth-generation telecommunications, few world leaders, politicians, and key policy departments have had to pay much attention as we have slowly ticked over from 2G to 3G, and from 3G to 4G. But 5G, which is still very much on the horizon for most countries, is different. And it is different for a range of reasons.

First, 5G is a departure from its predecessors, because we are no longer dealing with just telecommunications. 5G will not just give us extra connectivity and faster smartphones; it will connect billions of smart devices, increasingly sophisticated smart cities, and will enable developments like autonomous vehicles. It will provide a platform for advances in robotics and artificial intelligence. While its predecessors brought us text messaging, wireless internet connections, mobile broadband, and cloud technologies, the power of 5G lies in the fact that it will underpin and enable other technological advancements (including those still in the pipeline).

So instead of seeing it as just another step forward for telecommunications, states must also view 5G’s strategic technology as critical national infrastructure....

...Because 5G is critical national infrastructure, decisions made about which companies to partner with really come down to a state’s risk appetite. And states across the world will assess the risks that matter to them and make different decisions. For many, decisions will not focus on the companies themselves. Rather, key consideration will be given to the rules, laws and norms that govern a company’s home environment and guide that state’s international behaviour.

Given the evidence available, Australia’s place in the world and our strategic outlook in the Indo-Pacific, Australia’s risk appetite had its limits. And that hard limit was working with high-risk vendors in a technological advancement critical to enabling the world’s next industrial revolution.”

Read Danielle’s full essay here.