Global digital industry leaders have gathered in Davos to discuss the future of 5G networks amid an intensifying confrontation between China and the West for leadership over the development of the latest generation of cellular mobile communications

5G is seen as the spine of the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution, a theme that is at the hear of debate between leaders at the annual World Economic Forum. The importance of the infrastructure is evident from the recent controversy surrounding Huawei, the Chinese state-owned telecommunications behemoth with ties to Beijing’s secret intelligence services that is at the heart of a widening confrontation with the West about the future of the industry.

During a roundtable on the fourth industrial revolution on January 22, the focus of the discussion was on the technological potential for wider social access and economic productivity gains. However, concerns were voiced about the breach of trust between governments.

By 2025, the 5G mobile telephony technology will be rolled out in 110 countries noted Ken Hu, Huawei Technologies Deputy Chairman at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting at Davos.

Hu focused on the transformative potential of 5G technology and shared a vision of more inclusive globalisation, with telecommunications technology catalysing access to services for people with disabilities and enabling banking access for the masses, and catalysing support in the production of food for an expanding population.

His vision was echoed by Nokia’s Chief Executive Officer, Rajiv Suri, who predicted that 5G technologies will provide a much-needed productivity boost to mature economies, especially in health, transport, energy, and manufacturing. Suri projected that the “tipping point” for US productivity in a 5G environment will be 2028.

Hu made absolutely no reference to the bans slapped on Huawei’s activities in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and some EU countries because of the company’s alleged ties to China’s spy services.

Canada arrested Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer on December 1 that angered the Chinese government and sent shockwaves through the international markets. Hu’s only indirect remark regarding the incident focused on the need for a type of globalisation that is driven by “comparative advantage”.

The elephant in the room was acknowledged by Eileen Donahoe, the Executive Director, Global Digital Policy Incubator, who noted that “erosion of confidence” among governments as technology advances and gets applied for surveillance purposes has eroded both confidence and trust between potential partners, saying, “We don’t need new values, we need a new architecture” – one that will protect the core values of liberty, equality and democratic process.