President Donald Trump challenged U.S. telecommunications companies on Thursday to boost their efforts to build advanced networks and said leadership should come from competition, not by blocking competitors.
“American companies must step up their efforts, or get left behind,” Trump said in the first of two morning tweets. “There is no reason that we should be lagging behind on something that is so obviously the future.”
The worldwide mobile industry is racing to deploy advanced 5G networks that promise faster connections, allowing uses such as autonomous vehicles and remote surgery. China has a narrow lead over the U.S. and South Korea, according to research commissioned by CTIA, a Washington-based trade group for mobile carriers.
“I want the United States to win through competition, not by blocking out currently more advanced technologies,” Trump said in morning tweets.
The tweets suggest Trump won’t immediately sign an expected executive order to block U.S. companies from purchasing Chinese telecommunications equipment, Paul Triolo, who leads global technology studies at the Eurasia Group consultancy, said in a note.
The order is “in limbo” as the two countries engage in trade talks, Triolo said in the note.
“Trump’s tweets today about 5G suggest that he is not going to sign the directive during the trade negotiations, and he may decide not to issue it at all if there is a deal,” Triolo said.
Shenzhen-based Huawei Technologies Co. is pushing to take a global leadership position in 5G, but many American officials suspect the company’s products could be used by Beijing to spy on Western governments and companies.
The Trump administration is pressuring allies to keep Huawei gear out of their telecommunications networks, and Congress barred government agencies from buying the provider’s gear.
The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for more information.
Trump’s tweets came hours after Fox Business Network aired an interview with Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, in which host Maria Bartiromo pressed the top U.S. diplomat on whether the administration wants to restrict the use of equipment from Huawei.
“They are creating a real risk for these countries and their systems — the security of their people,” Pompeo told Bartiromo. “Europeans care deeply about their privacy. The risk to privacy from this technology is very, very real, and we’re out sharing this information.”
Pompeo went on to say that a government’s reliance on Huawei’s 5G technology could mean the U.S. will reconsider having an embassy or military outpost in the country, saying it’s possible “we won’t be able to work alongside them.”
Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, in an interview with CBS News on Thursday, says the U.S. is wrong to treat 5G as “an atomic bomb” and said his company will be rolling out “new equipment that is suitable for the United States.”
Nevertheless, the Trump administration is said to be preparing an executive order that could significantly restrict Chinese state-owned telecom companies such as Huawei from operating in the U.S. over national security concerns.
“We share the president’s commitment to leading the world in next-generation 5G wireless,” the trade group CTIA said in an emailed statement Thursday. “With the administration’s continued backing, the U.S. wireless industry can bring more robust 5G networks to more communities faster.”
CTIA represents companies including AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc.