US is behind China in the marketing of 5G, former Obama-era national security advisor says

Key Points
  • The United States is behind China in promoting its 5G technologies across the world, a former U.S. national security advisor told CNBC Sunday.
  • "In the marketing of it we are behind," Gen. James Jones — who served as NSA under former President Barack Obama--told CNBC.
US is behind in the 5G marketing race: James Jones

The United States is lagging behind China in promoting its 5G technologies across the world, with officials only just "waking up" to its potential, a former U.S. national security advisor told CNBC Sunday.

"In the marketing of it we are behind," General James Jones — who served as an advisor to former President Barack Obama and as supreme allied commander of NATO forces in Europe during George W. Bush's presidency — told CNBC's Hadley Gamble.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, he said that subsidies from the Chinese government had allowed the Asian nation to get ahead and produce technologies that were cheaper.

Superfast 5G mobile internet is expected to revolutionize the digital economy by enabling new technologies such as self-driving cars and the Internet of Things (IoT). Jones said that 5G would be the "most disruptive technology that's going to come our way probably in this century."

The next generation of wireless connectivity has the potential to transform "about all aspects of our society from banking to the medicine field, to the smart cities that we have ambitions for," Jones said.

Chinese firms and Huawei in particular have recently faced global pressure when it comes to 5G. The company has been blocked from selling equipment to the U.S. for many years. However, other countries, including Australia, New Zealand and Japan, have in recent months also excluded the company from supplying components for 5G networks.

These governments have flagged concerns that the technology would enable Chinese espionage. Huawei and others have repeatedly denied the claims.

"The competition is China and whoever wins this competition is going to be a very dominant player on the globe and China has a very seductive, appealing message: 'We're cheap, we're reliable, we don't put strings on our technology,'" Jones said.

David Becker | Getty Images

"What they don't say is, 'we don't share our technology, we don't train you on our technology, we don't give you the keys, we don't give you the encryption and we won't partner with your domestic countries'," he added.

"The U.S. technology that we're developing will do just the opposite of that, and it'll make us more secure. It'll enable our individual citizens to have a private secure cell phone, it'll enable our corporations to have protection of their intellectual properties and it'll enable our governments to be more secure," Jones told CNBC.

A spokesperson for Huawei has previously told CNBC that the company sees no rational reason to exclude Huawei from building 5G infrastructure in any country in the world. "Any exclusion of a supplier in a market with few suppliers usually results in poorer quality at higher prices," the company stated.

Jones said that when it came to 5G, there was a clear choice for U.S. allies.

"You can either go for the cheap, seductive but extremely vulnerable system that will take all of your privacy, your intellectual property and your secrets back to Beijing. Or you can invest a little bit more money and have a more secure society," he said.

In response to Jones's comments, a Huawei spokesperson said: "General Jones is right to say that the United States is behind Huawei when it comes to marketing of 5G — but it's not just marketing, U.S. companies are behind Huawei and the rest of the world when it comes to 5G technology and deployment too."

"Huawei is the market leader in 5G because it has invested billions of dollars of its own money — as a privately owned company — in the development of its technology. We are cooperating very closely with many government agencies around the world to deploy safe, secure and reliable 5G technology," the spokesperson added.

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—CNBC's Chloe Taylor and Arjun Kharpal contributed to this article.