Why are US Firms Lame in 5G?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 4/22/2019 04:01:00 PM
By failing to conform to GSM--the global telecoms standard--the US fell well behind the leading edge..
Recent times have witnessed the United States trying to stop Chinese telecommunications equipment manufacturers--most notably Huawei--from gaining market share abroad. The ostensible purpose is that the United States is concerned about Huawei and the rest accommodating Communist Party wishes to spy on other countries. If government buyers of this gear were to install Huawei gear, the explanation goes, it would make them vulnerable to Chinese spying that would hinder US intelligence cooperation.

But what American gear does the United States offer instead for those wanting to buy next-generation telecommunications equipment? Therein lies the rub: the United States does not have any vendor of gear that is as advanced as Huawei's. In 5G, the United States is arguably a laggard not because the government interfered too much but rather because it left the industry to its own devices, as the South China Morning Post explains:
How exactly did the US go from being the leader of modern telephony to also-ran within a matter of decades, allowing a Chinese company to become the 5G leader today?[...]

Experts and former US telecoms employees point to the confluence of several factors that ultimately led to the downfall of the industry, including its deregulation in 1996 and the lack of national mobile standards. Europe had already mandated the use of the GSM mobile network standard in 1987. US regulators, however, allowed carriers to go with whatever mobile standard they preferred. US carriers Verizon and Sprint chose to offer services using the CDMA mobile standard, developed by US firm Qualcomm – which operates on different frequencies to GSM, which AT&T and T-Mobile adopted.

Consumers who subscribed to a Verizon carrier, for example, would likely have to switch handsets if they wanted to change providers, as a device configured for CDMA might not run on a network supporting GSM. “In the US there were wireless networks like TDMA, CDMA and GSM, and any carrier could choose any of those if they thought that it would be best for their own growth plan … the US was like the Wild West,” said Thomas J. Lauria, a former AT&T employee, telecoms analyst as well as the author of the book The Fall of Telecom. “Europe managed itself more contiguously than the US, they did not have a lot of disparate networks and picked the [GSM] standard that everyone had to agree to.” 
The government not insisting on standards was made worse by industry deregulation encouraging the adoption of multiple standards without penalty. They did not think highly of the European GSM effort [which established standards for 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G and so on]:
The existence of multiple mobile standards in one market was further encouraged by the deregulation of the US industry under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, in which the US opened up the market, removing the monopoly that AT&T had on phone services and allowing smaller carriers to sprout. The entry of multiple service providers, all of whom were free to adopt different standards, was at the beginning viewed as beneficial for consumers and the industry as a whole. AT&T spun off its equipment division into what became known as Lucent Technologies, which thereafter listed on the New York Stock Exchange and raised US$3 billion in its initial public offering – then the largest ever in American history.

Lucent’s revenues grew rapidly by providing new entrants with networking equipment, and initially offered a variety of products compatible with different mobile standards, including CDMA, TDMA, GSM and AMPS. But multiple standards also meant that it was difficult to achieve economies of scale, so Lucent eventually bet on CDMA and UMTS – neither of which took off in Europe and most of Asia, costing it expansion opportunities in international markets.

“The US vendors were not convinced that GSM would become a global standard,” said Bengt Nordstrom, chief executive of Stockholm-based consultancy Northstream. “Instead, they supported all the technical standards in the US for their customers there. In many aspects, the era from the early 1990s to mid 2000s was lost time for the US mobile industry.” “From a US perspective and mentality, it is hard to understand why a technology not coming from the US should be better,” he added.
I have an issue with the pro-government intervention argument in that the US federal government could have insisted on a standard which ultimately lost out in the global market. Still, the episode does point out the downsides to allowing a fast-moving industry too much leeway in deregulating and tolerating the proliferation of incompatible standards. The end result is what we have today: Americans telling people not to buy Chinese 5G gear to which US-based companies offer no real alternatives. 

US to WTO: China Isn't a Developing Country

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 4/09/2019 10:44:00 AM
If Trump had his way, the WTO would have far fewer "developing countries." (China wouldn't be one, of course.)
There's an interesting fight going on at the WTO on the classification of developing countries as, well, developing countries. The Trump administration--never a fan of multilateral organizations like the WTO to begin with--wants fewer countries to be classified as such. At present, about two-third of WTO member countries have this status, and together with it, special and differential treatment (SD&T). SD&T allows preferences for developing countries that developed countries do not have such as a longer time frame for meeting WTO commitments or subsidizing their agricultural industries. From America's point of view [or is that Trump's?], this abuse has gone on for far too long.

On the other hand, China wants to keep this designation despite becoming the world's second-largest economy. From the South China Morning Post:
China will refuse to give up the “special and differential treatment” it enjoys as a developing nation at the World Trade Organisation, in a rebuke to a US proposal that would pare back the privileges China and other nations enjoy on trade. China is categorised as a developing country at the Geneva-based institution, which affords it “special and differential treatment”. This enables China to provide subsidies in agriculture and set higher barriers to market entry than more developed economies.

The dispute reflects a fundamental divide within the WTO that has threatened the future of the global multilateral trading system. The United States has long complained that too many WTO members – about two-thirds – define themselves as developing countries to take advantage of the terms the status permits them to trade under.
Allowing WTO members to classify themselves as developing countries to avail of SD&T is the latest American grievance against the WTO:
China, India, South Africa and Venezuela have opposed a US proposal to reform the “special and differential treatment”, published earlier this year. The four have already submitted a paper to the WTO saying that the self-classification of developing member status has been a long-standing practice and best serves the WTO’s objectives.

The joint letter also claims that many WTO rules have actually favoured the US and other developed countries, in the areas of agricultural support, textile quotas and intellectual property rights protection.
Unless other wealthy countries jion with the United States it's hard to see how the US gets traction on this issue in the medium term. 

NOPEC: Will Saudis Deny USD Oil Payment?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 4/05/2019 04:03:00 PM
Here's some news important to the study of IPE that has been flying under the radar. American lawmakers have, since the turn of the millennium, been contemplating passage of a "NOPEC" law removing the immunity of nations from American antitrust laws. As the name implies, the main target is collusion on setting global oil prices by OPEC member countries. In response to the Trump administration's increasing browbeating about high oil prices and OPEC's role in causing them, Saudi Arabia has come up with a potentially consequential strategy. That is, the Saudis will begin pricing their oil in a currency other than US dollars:
Saudi Arabia is threatening to sell its oil in currencies other than the dollar if Washington passes a bill exposing OPEC members to U.S. antitrust lawsuits, three sources familiar with Saudi energy policy said.

They said the option had been discussed internally by senior Saudi energy officials in recent months. Two of the sources said the plan had been discussed with OPEC members and one source briefed on Saudi oil policy said Riyadh had also communicated the threat to senior U.S. energy officials.The chances of the U.S. bill known as NOPEC coming into force are slim and Saudi Arabia would be unlikely to follow through, but the fact Riyadh is considering such a drastic step is a sign of the kingdom’s annoyance about potential U.S. legal challenges to OPEC.

In the unlikely event Riyadh were to ditch the dollar, it would undermine the its status as the world’s main reserve currency, reduce Washington’s clout in global trade and weaken its ability to enforce sanctions on nation states.

“The Saudis know they have the dollar as the nuclear option,” one of the sources familiar with the matter said.“The Saudis say: let the Americans pass NOPEC and it would be the U.S. economy that would fall apart,” another source said. 
Despite being a dollar bear, I am unsure if the Saudis denominating oil sales in another currency would be the proximate cause of the dollar becoming an even less dominant currency worldwide. At any rate, here's a NOPEC description:
NOPEC, or the No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act, was first introduced in 2000 and aims to remove sovereign immunity from U.S. antitrust law, paving the way for OPEC states to be sued for curbing output in a bid to raise oil prices.

While the bill has never made it into law despite numerous attempts, the legislation has gained momentum since U.S. President Donald Trump came to office. Trump said he backed NOPEC in a book published in 2011 before he was elected, though he not has not voiced support for NOPEC as president.

Trump has instead stressed the importance of U.S-Saudi relations, including sales of U.S. military equipment, even after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year. A move by Saudi Arabia to ditch the dollar would resonate well with big non-OPEC oil producers such as Russia as well as major consumers China and the European Union, which have been calling for moves to diversify global trade away from the dollar to dilute U.S. influence over the world economy.
It could be potentially exciting, eh? The real question for me is what would cause such a dramatic rupture in US-Saudi relations that the Arabs would stop pricing oil in USD. Still, I do not think the economic consequences for the dollar would be catastrophic. If many others follow suit, though, then we may be on the cusp of a whole new international political economy (though I doubt it).