Europe and the Geopolitics of 5G: Walking a Technological Tightrope Études de l’Ifri, January 2022
The acute Sino-American tensions which started in 2018 have been coupled with controversies around 5G technology, exemplified by the spotlight placed on Chinese equipment manufacturer Huawei and the security risks associated with its use. For Europe, the 5G challenge at the international level is drawing a very complex landscape.
Just like artificial intelligence, 5G materializes a very strong geopolitical sensitivity around the control of critical technologies. 5G is indeed critical because of its expected quasi-ubiquitous use, the gradual shift towards network technologies based entirely on software, and the potential strengthening of already dominant players (including digital platforms via cloud services).
The United States-China rivalry is limiting the European Union’s room for action, against a backdrop of security considerations and low levels of investment. The continent’s various players (the European Commission, the main European powers, private players such as Nokia and Ericsson) have not adopted a uniform stance, reflecting an entanglement of technological dependencies on China and the United States.
Meanwhile, the issue of semiconductors, symbolizing both the technological decline and the renewal of the EU’s ambitions, is fully integrated into the development of 5G. These chips constitute the "muscle" of the system and trigger new geo-economic challenges in which Europe must still find its place.