Industry Voices—Lowenstein's View: What should be on the agenda at White House Tech Roundtable?

White House
The White House will hold a roundtable with tech executives on Thursday. (Pixabay)
Mark Lowenstein Industry Voices

On Thursday, the White House will hold a roundtable with tech executives, including the CEOs of Google, Microsoft, Oracle, and Qualcomm. The objective, according to a White House email, is to discuss “bold, transformational ideas” that “can help ensure U.S. leadership in industries of the future.” This is a pivotal time in wireless/tech/telecom: it’s the eve of 5G; there are serious issues related to China that need to be discussed; data security and privacy must be addressed; and broader issues on immigration and infrastructure have an important bearing on the future of telecom.

So, if I were Steven Mollenkopf (hopping the Qualcomm corporate jet from Maui to D.C.), or Sundar Pichai, or Satya Nadella, here’s what I would hope to advance at the White House meeting.

U.S. Leadership on 5G. No, we don’t need the government to build a 5G network. But this is an important opportunity for some of tech’s top titans to tell the White House and other influential folks inside the Beltway what we need from Washington to build 5G leadership. A few items:

  • Rapid approval of the T-Mobile/Sprint deal, so we can ensure three really good 5G networks.
  • Continued progress on spectrum — especially mid-band — as this appears to be the way the much of the world is going. We need some harmonization for devices and (eventually) global roaming. And perhaps there’s a different model than always auctioning spectrum, in return for some assurances about spend and timing. This could also encourage new entrants into the 5G world.
  • Cell siting issues. This might be a level of minutiae that doesn’t make it onto the agenda Thursday, but the ability to deploy cell sites more quickly and more cheaply is critical to the rapid and broad deployment of 5G. Government must play some role here – perhaps not as forcefully as in South Korea or China…but something.
  • The U.S. government doing its bit to promote innovation and tech leadership.

China. This will be walking a tightrope, but China needs to be on the agenda. While there are legitimate concerns regarding Chinese firms such as Huawei and ZTE, there are major risks to U.S. companies as well, given the size of the China market. So we want to thread the needle carefully here, or there could be some big-time retaliation. Why not a discussion about implementing proper safeguards that would make us more comfortable with these firms doing business here? We don’t necessarily want to close ourselves off from some of the innovation coming from Chinese companies.

The trade/tariff issue could also have a significant effect on the telecom/wireless industry, depending on how that goes. A major trade war could will negatively effectively the rollout of 5G, the availability of innovative devices, and the component supply chain. I’d like to see U.S. tech leaders have some influence over White House China policy.  

Data Privacy and Security. This touches our industry in a big way, especially with the role of companies such as Google and Facebook, emerging opportunities in AI, the amount of data possessed by service providers, plus their role in connectivity and edge computing. As discussed in my recent column in Techpinions, I’d like to see Silicon Valley lead on this issue, rather than it coming from the regulatory side. Call it the ‘Consumer Data Privacy Task Force’, deputize a couple of senior execs from each of the major players, and have them come up with a plan to present to Congress. Don’t let the regulators own this one.

Immigration. Obviously this is a multi-layered issue – but our inability to solve the immigration issue is starting to have a very real effect on the tech economy. Companies have huge numbers of openings but the H-1 visa process has been a victim of the immigration debate, with reduced caps and a longer, more expensive processing procedure. We are going to be competing for talent – globally – in areas such as 5G and AI, and we will lose our leadership position if we keep getting in our own way.

Infrastructure. Some who are reading this might feel I am getting a bit far afield here. But the much-vaunted ‘investment in infrastructure’ is going to be critical to 5G opportunities in areas such as smart cities, autonomous vehicles, and so on. As an example, China made 99% of the world’s electric buses from 2014-2017, and in the tech hub of Shenzen, all buses and taxis will be electric by the end of this year, with generous subsidies helping drive the switch (Wall St. Journal, December 4, 2018). That is the type of government support that is going to help kick start opportunities in 5G.

More broadly, I’d like to see two things emerge from this meeting. First, since we have so many influential tech industry leaders in one place and with an attentive audience, perhaps they can agree to collectively take ownership of some of these issues, such as  data security and privacy, or some items regarding China safeguards. Create task forces and tell Washington, ‘we’ve got this.' In return, Washington can do what Washington should do: don’t bug up the immigration system, making it hard to hire the right talent; invest in 21st century infrastructure, which will be critical to the success of 5G in the 2020s; and strike the right balance on China, rather than initiate a new Cold War, which will affect tech in a much bigger way than the last Cold War did.

Mark Lowenstein, a leading industry analyst, consultant, and commentator, is managing director of Mobile Ecosystem. Click here to subscribe to his free Lens on Wireless monthly newsletter, or follow him on Twitter at @marklowenstein.

Industry Voices are opinion columns written by outside contributors—often industry experts or analysts—who are invited to the conversation by FierceWireless staff. They do not represent the opinions of FierceWireless.