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What became of 5G?

2022-08-13 | Technology
What became of 5G?

Development thwarted by imperialist tensions

For more than three years the 5G was at the center of the US economic war against China. The 5G battle was in fact, the first scene of the process of forming a military economic bloc around the US.

For the first time, expressions such as "breaking the 5G dependence on China" came to be considered legitimate industrial policy objectives after thirty years of praise for Asian technological development and professions of faith in globalization.

Even the ultra-liberal The Economist went so far as to seriously consider the government takeover of 5G networks. And the US went so far as to pressure Canada to indefinitely hold Huawei's CFO under threat of extradition in order to have something to negotiate with a company that Washington considered the greatest strategic danger to US capital.

From Australia to Brazil via the EU, whether or not to incorporate Huawei as a 5G network provider was no longer a technical decision but a matter of political decantation and imperialist orientation. It divided not only countries but political parties and capital groups. But giving up on Huawei technology - which the US accused of being a gateway to Chinese espionage without material grounds - meant opting for alternatives such as Nokia or Ericsson that had been left far behind.

The result, in 2022, is that China installed almost half a million antennas, too few for its size and population, the US itself has an underdeveloped 5G network, the EU has fallen far short in deployment (Germany has not even brought it to [its rural areas](https://www. agrarzeitung.de/nachrichten/wirtschaft/breitband-internet-so-kommen-sie-raus-aus-dem-datenloch-102738)) and among the semi-colonial countries the best expectation, the one reserved for South America, speaks of a maximum of 12% of total lines... in 2025, despite the fact that these countries start from much smaller telecom networks than the more capitalized states.

What does 5G bring? Why is it important?

5G-controlled excavator in a Molybdenum mine in China

5G-controlled excavator in a molybdenum mine in China

Compared to previous generations of mobile communications 5G brings three advantages: higher data volume per second, minimal latency and much higher density of the networks it creates.

What is latency? The time it takes for information to go back and forth. Making it minimal means being able to operate anything connected to the network in real time.

For instance, in mining, both subsurface and open pit, it allows you to robotize virtually everything so that nobody needs to go into the mine. Today it is already being used in coal mines and molybdenum mines in China. More or less autonomous robots and remotely controlled machines have replaced the risky work of the pitman with that of a drone pilot.

What is network density? The number of devices that can be connected in a given area. 5G allows up to one million devices per square kilometer to be connected. That means one can put sensors and actuators on almost anything and have real-time information - and responses - to any change in the environment.

If applied to a crop field, one can put sensors every few centimeters and actually treat each plant according to its needs... which can result in savings of up to 70% in inputs needed to maximize production. Tying together via 5G drones, sensors and machines is what is known as precision agriculture to which 5G adds scalability and real-time responsiveness. Of course, all these gigantic volumes of information require systems that process them and provide immediate response. That's why AI and 5G go hand in hand in the development of physical productivity.

A potential for physical productivity growth that is even greater in industry. It allows to physically distribute production throughout the territory, automate up to 75% of the tasks that are not by self-coordinating the machines that perform the processes and at the limit, socialize the orientation and even the design of the products by predicting demand in real time and adapting supply to it.

To summarize: the 5G network is the first communications network that enables the integration and general automation of all production processes on the scale of an entire society and, what's more, its merger with logistics and consumption.

5G and the contradictions of the current system

Control room of the 5G-based social surveillance system to be unveiled by Qatar during the World Cup

Control room of the 5G-based social surveillance system that will debut in Qatar during the World Cup

The world made materially possible by 5G is fascinating because it is tied to two elements that define the potential development of society's productive forces: the increase in the physical productivity of both labor and natural resources and the tendency to socialize production that would eventually allow it to be directly subordinated to human needs.

5G, or a system enabling similar networks, is essential to make possible the socialization and automation of undesirable jobs and agriculture and animal husbandry, reduce the scale, pollution and hazardousness of large industrial plants or reverse urban ultra-concentration and overcrowding.

But just because the material possibility exists does not mean that capitalism will bring it about. Under capitalism, the development of automation and the socialization of production are contingent, like everything else, on the creation of profits, i.e., on their usefulness in profitably exploiting labor power.

Increasing the physical productivity of labor - what an average hour of work produces - is of no use to capital if it does not serve productivity in terms of profit - the profit left to capital by the average wage of an average worker's hour. And in a capitalism facing a perennial shortage of solvent markets, that means more often than not artificially creating scarcity and destroying productive capacities rather than bringing us closer to abundance.

Technology will not save the world because what produces the war, pauperization and destruction of the environment which are putting humanity on the ropes are the social relations which define the system rather than the technologies and the raw materials they use.

We've seen it in everything from the Internet to antibiotics, from plastics to insulin. We've even seen it with the space race and the moon landing. We see it every time a technological improvement that allows to produce more with less work and resources is incorporated into production and generates unemployment and misery instead of increasing the capacity of workers to satisfy their human needs. And the fact is that capitalist growth is increasingly antagonistic to human development and there is no technological change that will lessen this fundamental contradiction that has been permanently present for more than a century.

Militarism and 5G

5G military drone antenna

U.S. Army drone used to provide 5G coverage for infantry and cavalry unit equipment on the battlefield.

And yet, the most significant thing about 5G deployment as of today is that it is stalled. It is stalled by the technology and trade war between the two major imperialist powers: the US and China. Breaking the dependence on Chinese suppliers in a critical technology at all levels was put ahead of the opportunities it opened up for capital itself.

Not even the prospect of placing gigantic capital profitably by installing massive antennas has slowed down the requirements of the creation of economic-military blocs and the drive towards war. When applications have been implemented on a certain scale, they have been oriented neither towards production nor services, but towards creating networks to coordinate units on the battlefield as intended by European military commanders or the British army, and massive systems of social control as we have seen in China, Qatar and some Central Asian countries.

The fact that in the end capital is flowing to these uses and not to the productive potential of 5G is no small matter. It is a definitive symptom of how the development of militarism is concentrating, slowing down and deforming technological progress beyond what was already imposed by the logic of a capital in crisis.

There is no turning back. Capital is not going to back down on its road to war. The only horizon in which it is possible to liberate knowledge and its applications from subjugation to its utility for war and the totalitarian rearmament of the state, is to confront and overcome the system as a whole.