The US and Japan have signalled their intent to work together on the future of communications networking technology and other ICT R&D to create a new global powerhouse that can wield the kind of influence needed to counter China’s ambitions.
The US and Japanese governments have agreed jointly to plough $4.5 billion to go “beyond 5G” and attempt to take a lead in the nascent 6G sector. Last Friday evening, US President Joe Biden and Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga signed an accord to co-operate directly “in the research, development testing and deployment of secure networks and advanced information and communications technology,” and to work together in numerous other areas that could swing the balance of tech leadership their way.
The US is contributing $2.5 billion to the effort, while and Japan is contributing $2 billion. The initiative will “advance secure and open 5G networks, including Open Radio Access Networks (‘Open-RAN’), by fostering innovation and by promoting trustworthy vendors and diverse markets.” The wording here, and throughout the agreement document all suggests an effort to promote the US and Japan as trusted security and technology partners for other countries in the face of a threat from China.
The partners will also “strengthen competitiveness in the digital field by investing in research, development, testing, and deployment of secure networks and advanced ICT including 5G and next-generation mobile networks (‘6G’ or ‘Beyond 5G’).”
It’s an important agreement because it shows that the US and Japan are determined to provide the primary route to 6G and compete hard with China in this regard, though of course Europe also has aspirations to be the centre of 6G R&D. (See Germany pumps €700 million into 6G R&D.)
The US and Japan also agree that they should be instrumental in setting new global standards for next-generation comms and to extend the accord to bring third countries into the development of standards for secure connectivity.
In this regard the two countries are to launch what they call a Global Digital Connectivity Partnership to “promote secure connectivity and a vibrant digital economy while building the cybersecurity capacity of our partners to address shared threats.” Here, of course, you can sit Russia and North Korea alongside China in the list of countries referred to, but not mentioned by name.
And then there’s work to be done on ensuring that important supply chains, such as those in the global semiconductor industry, don’t get disrupted in the way they are currently.
“We’re going to work together across a range of fields,” noted President Biden, “from promoting secure and reliable 5G networks; to increasing our cooperation on supply chains for critical sectors like semiconductors; to driving joint research in areas like AI, genomics, quantum computing, and much more.”
That’s a lot of ‘stuff’.
What impact will all this have? Well, it depends when, where and how the R&D dollars are spent and just how persuasive the US and Japan can be in getting other countries on board.
Specifically in telecoms, both the US and Japan are among the most advanced 5G markets in the world and are home to many of the players pushing ahead with Open RAN developments, so it’s not hard to see how that combination could be powerful in terms of grabbing a sizeable slice of the action.
And with minds now set on ensuring that 6G ‘leadership’ (whatever that means) isn’t ceded to China, it’s also hard to imagine that the politicians will just sit on their hands and not follow through on the talk of joint investments. The hard part will be agreeing on what course of action to take and then sharing everything they do: Even partners with ‘shared threats’ don’t always play as nicely as they could.
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