In an increasingly interconnected world, the U.S. military is facing new challenges in old stomping grounds.

Even though the U.S. isn’t at war with China, competition with Beijing is already raging, and conventional and special operations troops deployed around the world are exposed, either directly or through proxies, to Chinese technology that could hinder them in a conflict.

The worst offender is 5G, the same mobile communications technology ordinary people use or will be using in the future.


What’s 5G?

Army soldier using cell phone
U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School students use a cell phone during training in North Carolina, October 22, 2019. (Photo by K. Kassens/U.S. Army)

5G is the latest generation of mobile communications network technology.

Every 10 years or so, a new generation of mobile communications goes live. 1G, the first generation, arrived with the first cellphones. 2G brought better coverage and texting. 3G introduced data and online services, while 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) brought increased network capacity and improved speeds to address the high demand for mobile data.

5G has download speeds 100 times faster than 4G, meaning that a three-gigabyte movie would take 35 seconds to download instead of 40 minutes. 5G also has one-tenth the latency of its predecessor, with data response times as fast as a millisecond.

5G promises a transformation of telecommunication networks in a way that makes new capabilities — such as remote surgery, smart cities, and autonomous vehicles — more widely available.