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It is "too early to tell" whether the global internet could splinter into geopolitical camps, according to the incoming chief executive officer of management consultancy EY.
Escalating trade tensions between the U.S. and China appear to be increasingly focused on technology and 5G.
Chinese telecoms giant Huawei has been under intense international scrutiny in recent months. It follows the Trump administration's decision to put the company on a blacklist that restricts its access to U.S. technology — on which it heavily relies.
Speaking to CNBC's Geoff Cutmore at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) on Thursday, Carmine Di Sibio, CEO elect of EY, said: "5G is going to be critical going forward."
On Wednesday, Huawei announced it had signed a deal with Russia's top mobile operator MTS to develop 5G technology in Russia.
When asked whether the MTS-Huawei deal could exacerbate fears that the global internet might soon split in two, Di Sibio replied: "I think it is too early to tell to be honest, there are a lot of tactics being played in the geopolitical world today."
"I really do think that where the internet is today and how things are operating, I think it will be very difficult to go backwards … I think it will be difficult for the people to accept a confined internet — or confined anything — versus a global free internet," Di Sibio said.
"I think the cat is out of the bag, frankly," he added.
Late last year, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt predicted that there would be two distinct internets within the next decade: one led by the U.S. and the other by China.
The concept has been dubbed the "splinternet," and it refers to a future in which the internet is fragmented, governed by separate regulations and run by different services.
A unified definition is still unclear, but one suggestion is that the future could see Chinese and American apps and services each dominate half of the internet.
— CNBC's Arjun Kharpal contributed to this report.