“The leader of 5G stands to gain hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue over the next decade, with widespread job creation across the wireless technology sector,” according to the Defence Innovation Board, an independent federal advisory committee of the US Department of Defence. That sums up why the US and China are in a bitter contest over who will lead in the race.

When 5G mobile services start to roll out worldwide from next year, smart cities such as Hangzhou are expected to get smarter as the next-generation wireless technology helps industries realise the full potential of the internet of things (IoT).

While a universal standard for 5G technology has been adopted worldwide, the US risks repeating the same mistake of going its own way because of its decision to roll out next-generation networks on mobile airwaves different from what other economies are using.

In China, with a population of about 1.4 billion, the stakes are high for health care to become one of the major applications for 5G mobile technology because the world’s second biggest economy still must contend with an acute shortage of qualified doctors and nurses.

As 2020 draws near and the world is on the cusp of ultra-fast 5G networks, the US has found itself without a telecommunications hardware champion that can compete with major 5G players such as China’s Huawei Technologies, Finland’s Nokia and Sweden’s Ericsson.

Looking back at its humble beginnings, one would be hard-pressed to predict that Huawei would become the present-day juggernaut, with more than 170,000 employees, a presence in more than 170 markets and more than US$100 billion in annual revenue.