snapshots

Russia: Moscow Divvies Up 5G and Quantum Development Among Its Proxies

3 MINS READJul 10, 2019 | 21:37 GMT
The Big Picture

Russia has pursued various efforts to strengthen its position in the face of sanctions and deteriorating relations with the West and its allies. One major element of this strategy has been reducing Moscow's economic reliance on the rest of the world. In tune with Russian goals of self-sustainability in the domains of internet and communication, Moscow is now also pushing for "technological sovereignty" as a way to reduce economic and intellectual dependencies.

What Happened

The Russian government has signed a number of agreements with several state-owned enterprises to distribute responsibilities for the development of a wide range of technologies. Under the new contracts, Russia's state-controlled Sberbank will be responsible for the development of AI technologies, Russian Railways will manage the development of quantum communications, Rosatom will manage the development of quantum computing as well as material sciences, Rostec will develop quantum sensors, and both Rostelecom and Rostec will head the development of Russia's 5G infrastructure. The budgets for these developments were not included in the contracts, but are expected to be released closer to fall.

A State-Led Solution to 'Technological Sovereignty'

This top-down, state-owned enterprise push is being framed in the context of "technological sovereignty" in Russia, which speaks to Moscow's desired self-sustainability in providing its own high-tech services. China is another great power pursuing government-led initiatives to drive technological development at home. But doing so, Beijing has instead allowed its private sector to take lead by boosting state support for domestic companies to, in turn, protect its emerging tech capabilities from foreign competitors.

Moscow, meanwhile, has opted for a stronger state-led approach by signing these agreements. This strategy is reminiscent of those deployed by the Soviet Union, which raises questions over the efficiency — and ultimately, the efficacy — of the effort. But Russia's decision was likely the result of two key challenges: First, its often hyped private tech sector has so far failed to really deliver in these emerging fields and second is the simple fact that the large funds required for such developments are already limited to state-owned entities.

What It Means for 5G 

Most of the agreements are aimed at more distant benefits from various quantum capabilities. But the contract with Rostelecom and Rostec, in particular, could have the most imminent impact on Russia's place in the global 5G race. Russia's federal intelligence agency had initially implored the government to ensure only domestic technology and equipment were used in building the country's 5G infrastructure. However, such an endeavor would have been extremely costly — explaining why one of Russia's major telecom operators recently signed a deal with Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei to roll out Moscow's first 5G network.

The contracts indicate that there's still an urge in Moscow to build out its own 5G capabilities by drawing on already existing resources and infrastructure.

However, the inclusion of 5G in these state contracts indicates that there is still an urge in Moscow to build out its own capabilities for the next-generation technology — especially since 5G aligns not only with Russia's pursuit of technological sovereignty, but with its greater narratives of internet independence and economic self-sustainability. Thus, Moscow will likely continue to try to make its 5G infrastructure as Russian as possible in the years ahead by drawing on already existing resources and infrastructure (such as state-owned enterprises) as much as possible.

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