President Trump on Friday announced a new wireless spectrum auction intended to speed the rollout of the next generation of wireless communications networks, a technology the administration views as critical to winning an economic war with China.
Yet Mr. Trump has so far remained silent on whether the United States would issue an order essentially banning Chinese firms like Huawei from building those networks.
At the White House on Friday, Ajit Pai, the Federal Communications Commission chairman, announced the third, and largest, auction of spectrum that telecom companies will use to build “fifth generation,” or 5G, networks, which promise a major speed increase for downloading data over cellular networks.
Rolling out those networks, in both cities and rural areas, requires essentially rebuilding the nation’s cell networks and switching systems. Over time, the evolution to the new architecture promises to transform how billions of “internet of things” devices — such as autonomous cars and industrial sensors — operate, allowing faster, seamless connectivity.
The Trump administration sees this next generation of technology as critical to the United States’ ability to dominate industries of the future and power its long-term economic prospects. It views China’s ability to control these networks as a national security threat because it could, at least theoretically, give Beijing access to the information that flows across them.
“Secure 5G networks will absolutely be a vital link to America’s prosperity and national security in the 21st century,” Mr. Trump said on Friday.
But Chinese telecommunications companies, like Huawei, are poised to dominate because they offer the most inexpensive, and what some European and Asian officials consider some of the best, equipment to provide the technical backbone of 5G networks. There are no American suppliers for the main switching networks, meaning that the American systems will largely be built by firms like Nokia and Ericsson, both European.
The administration has long been contemplating an executive order that would ban American telecom companies from using Huawei or other Chinese equipment when building 5G networks. But that executive order has not materialized, leading many officials and industry executives to believe the administration is holding back until the current trade negotiations with China are completed. Any move to bar Chinese firms from the United States could anger Chinese leadership.
It is possible that Mr. Trump will allow some Chinese access to the American market — despite national security concerns — in order to strike a trade deal with Xi Jinping, China’s president.