Mapping the 5G Leadership Landscape: The Impact of Global Telecommunications Standard Setting on U.S. Strategy and Policy
33 Pages Posted: 3 Aug 2021 Last revised: 19 Aug 2021
Date Written: August 2, 2021
This paper explores global 5G and wireless innovation leadership in standard setting organizations, analyzing declared patents, the number of standards submissions, and activity and leadership in international standards-setting bodies, specifically the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP).
U.S. policymakers appear wary of the potential for unfair strategic gamesmanship in standards setting organizations by Chinese actors, and with good reason. The United States and U.S.-based technology companies throughout the wireless ecosystem have benefited from years of global technology standards grounded in fair process rewarding successful innovation. Chinese policy aims to dominate the industries of the future, not necessarily through fair processes. Understanding the scope and scale of China’s standards setting activities will help to inform policymakers on when, where, and how to direct resources to ensure effective standards creation and continued U.S. leadership in high-technology innovation.
3GPP, the primary driving force behind the development of 5G specifications, is designed with transparency, consensus, and fairness in mind. Both analysis and anecdote indicate its governance mechanisms are generally working well. Conflict is rare, representation does not appear dramatically skewed, and outcomes mostly appear fair. However, this does not mean this will always be the case, or that other standards-setting bodies, particularly in smaller bodies or those with weaker structures might not be undermined. Analysis of standard-setting organizations’ governance models, informal observation, and support for good governance mechanisms across standard setting bodies, ideally in partnership with like-minded allies would all be helpful policy actions. However, these efforts can go too far: explicit government coordination or identification of strategic standards priorities risk an acceleration of unfair tactics or balkanization of otherwise global standards.
A narrow focus on standards bodies themselves would miss rich opportunities for boosting future U.S. standards leadership. Continued U.S. competitiveness in technological innovation requires a coherent set of policies to support the STEM talent pool and advanced research and development. Policymakers should look to support the beginning of the innovation road, versus fixating on the near-end of the journey at standards-setting bodies. Supporting standards-setting activity is important, but in order to maintain true competitiveness, policymakers must help enable the activity that allows firms to lead in fair standards bodies.
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