President Donald Trump's national security team is looking at options to counter China that include the U.S. government building a super-fast 5G wireless network, a senior administration official has said.
The official, confirming the gist of a report from Axios.com, said the option was being debated at a low level in the administration and was six to eight months away from being considered by the president himself.
The 5G network concept is aimed at addressing what officials see as China's threat to U.S. cyber security and economic security.
"We want to build a network so the Chinese can’t listen to your calls," the senior official said. "We have to have a secure network that doesn’t allow bad actors to get in. We also have to ensure the Chinese don't take over the market and put every non-5G network out of business."
Government development of a wireless network would likely raise alarms in the private telecommunications industry. Another option includes having a 5G network built by a consortium or wireless carriers, the official said.
"We want to build a secure 5G network and we have to work with industry to figure out the best way to do it," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Axios published documents that it said were from a presentation from a National Security Council official about the 5G issue. If the government built the 5G network, it would rent access to carriers like AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile, Axios said.
A looming concern laid out in the presentation is China's growing presence in the manufacture and operation of wireless networks. A concerted government push could help the U.S. compete on that front, according to the presentation.
A 5G network is expected to offer significantly faster speeds, more capacity and shorter response times, which could be utilized for new technologies ranging from self-driving cars to remote surgeries. Telecom companies and their suppliers consider it to be a multibillion-dollar revenue opportunity.
Tensions over China's role in wireless networks have already reached Capitol Hill.
U.S. lawmakers are urging AT&T, the No. 2 wireless carrier, to cut commercial ties to Chinese phone maker Huawei and oppose plans by telecom operator China Mobile to enter the U.S. market because of national security concerns, two congressional aides told Reuters earlier this month.
(Reporting by Steve Holland and Pete Schroeder; Editing by Peter Cooney and Cynthia Osterman)