White House plans 5G summit with global tech leaders as battle with Huawei continues

Key Points
  • The Trump administration is planning a 5G summit with global tech leaders in April at the White House, officials said.
  • The meeting is part of the White House's efforts to keep Chinese telecom giant Huawei from becoming dominant in next generation communications technology.
  • Behind the scenes, tech executives such as Microsoft President Brad Smith have been meeting with Trump to discuss maintaining American communications dominance.
President Donald Trump speaks at the South Lawn of the White House on June 10, 2019.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

The Trump administration is planning a 5G summit at the White House in early April as part of its global effort to ensure that Chinese telecom giant Huawei does not become dominant in next generation communications technologies, officials told CNBC.

The event has not been officially announced yet. The president's top economic advisor, Larry Kudlow, told reporters Friday that such a meeting would happen.

"We're going to have a lot of them in the White House to have a discussion. I'm sure the president will join us in part. That would include Samsung, that would include all of our guys," Kudlow said.

The development comes at a crucial moment for U.S.-Chinese relations. China, which is grappling with the coronavirus outbreak, last month signed a "phase one" trade deal with Trump as both sides look to complete additional phases.

Behind the scenes, a senior administration official said telecom and technology CEOs have been visiting with President Donald Trump at the White House to explain their views on how to make sure that American firms continue to dominate the communications industry.

Particularly influential in shaping White House thinking has been Microsoft President Brad Smith, who has discussed the issue face to face with Trump.

"We've been working with him," the senior administration official said of Smith. "He spoke to POTUS about a month ago and they saw each other in Davos."

The input of Smith and other tech CEOs who have met with the president has helped shape an emerging view that the 5G issue is as much about software as it is about physical infrastructure.

"They're smarter than we are, and they're patriots," the official said of the CEOs. "They want to help the U.S. be in the lead on 5G. Software and the cloud are going to revolutionize infrastructure."

The upcoming 5G summit is intended to gather information from the tech industry to help the White House press its case with allied countries that they should not allow Huawei equipment into their telecommunications networks. The administration fears that the Chinese government has installed "back doors" in the gear that will allow for spying on sensitive communications.

Despite pressure from the U.S., the U.K. has decided to allow Huawei equipment in its 5G networks.

The White House plans to invite foreign companies based in allied countries, including Nokia, Ericsson and Samsung, the official said.

Attorney General William Barr suggested earlier this month that the United States should go as far as purchasing a controlling stake in Nokia and Ericsson in order to provide a safe harbor for non Chinese telecommunications equipment.

But other officials within the White House quickly shot that idea down privately, worrying that it was inappropriate for taxpayers to buy large stakes in private firms.

What is 5G?
What is 5G?