What Does Trump's Weird Tweet About '6G Technology' Even Mean? (Update)

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Sometimes a leader comes along who inspires us to push harder, go farther, and dream big. On Thursday, President Donald J. Trump tried to become that kind of leader, calling on Americans to develop “6G” technology. We think. The message wasn’t particularly clear. We’re all working through it.

This morning, the president used his executive time to tweet out a two-parter seemingly referencing the push by the United States to keep Chinese tech giant Huawei out of 5G wireless networks around the globe. He started out by insisting that when it comes to the internet, he wants America to have all the G’s:

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For four solid minutes, the world waited to find out what the U.S. should not be “lagging behind on.” And then Trump delivered with an additional 44 words:

So, we know that the president is talking about the coming wave of 5G technology that will be deployed in wireless networks and dramatically increase speeds over the next decade. The wireless standard is expected to open new possibilities in the fields of virtual reality, driverless cars, and more. He’s also saying the U.S. could do better than 5G—approximately one better than 5G. And who knows, maybe even better than that.

(6G, it should be noted, is not a standard that has been defined, much less developed yet, but it could certainly exist someday. As of 2019, it’s a bit like asking for an amplifier that goes up to 11.)

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More to the point, it seems that Trump is making some sort of reference to his administration’s position that the world’s largest manufacturer of telecom equipment, Huawei, is a national security risk because it could give Chinese intelligence operations a backdoor into other nation’s networks. That fear in the U.S. intelligence community predates the Trump administration, but the U.S. has increasingly tried to persuade other countries to avoid Huawei’s equipment when building out their own 5G networks—a diplomatic effort that most recently appears to be failing.

Huawei’s equipment is inexpensive but it has competitors in the field like Qualcomm and Ericsson. The U.S. is moving forward with its own 5G networks and the big telecoms have pledged not to use Huawei’s products. Trump sounds like he’s calling for American tech companies to step up and compete in the wireless space, but it also sounds like he’s maybe kinda hinting that he’d like to see Huawei competing in the market as well.

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The U.S. government has spent a year isolating Huawei and leading an international effort that has so far resulted in the company’s CFO being arrested in Canada on charges of sanctions violations and the Justice Department charging the company with 10 federal crimes. Is Trump now trying to say that whole thing is no big deal?

Well, it’s possible that this is some sort of signal to China that Trump is willing to negotiate on Huawei. In December, the administration told reporters that it had set a “hard deadline” of March 1 for China to agree to a new trade deal that would “assure the protection of U.S. technology” and give “additional market access” to U.S. companies. With that date approaching fast, maybe Trump is trying to use Huawei as a bargaining chip. The president did step in last year and give ZTE a pass on violating sanctions in exchange for Chinese President Xi Jinping’s agreement to do something—or maybe nothing, no one’s really sure.

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On the other hand, let’s be honest: Trump probably just saw something on TV and wants everyone to know American tech should have the best and biggest numbers.

Update 11:52 AM: A Twitter user helpfully pointed us to an interview with Huawei CEO Ren Zhengfei that aired just hours ago on CBS This Morning in which he downplayed concerns about 5G’s potential saying, “They’ve been regarding 5G as the technology at the same level of the – some other military equipment. 5G is not an atomic bomb.” Ren went on to emphasize the tides of progress saying, “Now we are rolling out 5G and soon we’ll welcome 6G. And in the future, I said there will be new equipment that is suitable for the United States.” We don’t know for certain that this is what Trump was responding to but it’s a great guess.

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