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Donald Trump says he asked Tim Cook to help build out 5G in the US

Donald Trump says he asked Tim Cook to help build out 5G in the US


As a reminder, Apple is not a cellular carrier

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Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

Hot on the heels of lying about the opening of “Apple’s” “new” factory in Texas — it is neither new nor an Apple factory — President Trump has said that he also asked Apple CEO Tim Cook “to see if he could get Apple involved in building 5G in the U.S.,” according to a tweet he posted this morning.

Trump’s request that Apple help with building 5G in the US is apparently due to the fact that “They have it all - Money, Technology, Vision & Cook!l” Unfortunately for the president, Apple has almost nothing to do with the actual development or rollout of 5G infrastructure in the United States due to the fact that Apple is not a mobile carrier.

As a quick reminder for anyone who’s a little confused on the topic, there are essentially two parts to the cellular network in the US. First, you’ve got the networks themselves, which are primarily run by four companies: Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint. Those four carriers are responsible for putting up antenna towers, ensuring that there’s adequate coverage at adequate speeds and more. It takes a colossal investment.

Then there are the devices that people use on those networks, like cellphones and LTE hot spots. Those products are made by different companies, like Apple, Samsung, Huawei, and Google. They interface with those networks, but they generally don’t get much of a say in what the carriers do or where they do it.

The 5G rollout in the US is almost entirely reliant on the carriers — that is, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint. If Apple were to release a 5G iPhone tomorrow, it wouldn’t increase 5G coverage in the US, and there’s not much Apple could do to improve that, short of asking the carriers to do a better job of rolling out more coverage.

In fact, Apple is so far removed from the overall networking process that it doesn’t even produce its own modems, the hardware in its iPhones and iPads that actually connects to the cellular networks. It relies on outside parts developed by Intel (and, soon, Qualcomm, thanks to a $4.5 billion settlement) instead.

Now, it’s true that companies like Apple do exert some influence over the process. One could argue that LTE didn’t really take off as a technology until Apple adopted it with the iPhone 5 in 2013, despite the fact that various other LTE devices were already around. It’s possible that Apple adopting 5G could indirectly spur carriers to hasten their plans for coverage, given the popularity of the iPhone. But Apple isn’t about to start paying money to put up 5G towers anytime soon.

There are other tech companies, like Google and its Google Fi MVNO service, that are more directly involved in networking tech. But even in that case, Google is effectively renting networks from existing carriers that are still the ones making decisions about which networking standards to use and deciding where to launch 5G coverage first.

Cook ruled out that Apple is trying to enter the mobile carrier space back in 2016, commenting, “Our expertise doesn’t extend to the network... generally, the things Apple likes to do, are things we can do globally. We don’t have the network skill. We’ll do some things along the way with e-SIMs along the way, but in general, I like the things carriers do.”

Then again, Trump’s confusion about who is actually responsible for building a 5G network in the US isn’t entirely surprising — after all, the man is already focused on getting 6G internet in the US “as soon as possible.”