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Trade and geopolitics

Worlds apart: Geopolitics shake 5G supply chains

Published 11 July 2023

Competition in the telecommunications sector is rising as a central element of the ongoing geopolitical struggle between the US-led West and China. As leading companies in the 5G industry seek to address their mutual exposure through trade diversification, prodded by increasing state intervention, 5G supply chains are likely to become significantly less globalized.

Global supply chains for 5G network equipment are being dramatically reshaped by geopolitical tensions and the rising use of industrial policy among economies worldwide. 5G held out the promise to be the foundation for a suite of futuristic capabilities, from fully automated factories to ‘smart’ logistics and remote surgery. China was a forerunner in the technology. Its national champion Huawei controls many of the technical standards that govern such networks. Together with Sweden’s Ericsson, Finland’s Nokia, and China’s ZTE, these companies control almost 80% of the global 5G network equipment market by revenue.

But plans are afoot among multilateral forums including the Group of Seven and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue to upend global 5G supply chains. As Kieran Thompson of Dragoman examines in this paper, countries including the US, India, and Japan, which are not currently market leaders in deploying the standard, are seeking to promote new policies and network architectures. These forces will reshape supply chains of the four major incumbents – a process made complicated by their interdependency.

Whichever company, country, and geopolitical bloc consolidate its position as the 5G leader will enjoy significant advantages as work on 6G to be deployed in 2030 has already begun.

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Kieran Thompson is sector manager for defence advanced manufacturing and technology at Dragoman, a Melbourne-based, international strategic advisory firm.

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