Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt pulled no punches in withering criticism of US 5G efforts compared with China, blasting government procrastination and warning future ownership of the technology hung in the balance in an opinion article for The Wall Street Journal.

In the piece, Schmidt and Graham Allison, a professor of government at Harvard, blasted government wavering they argued had left the US lagging China in deploying 5G infrastructure.

They warned President Joe Biden’s administration 5G should be a “national priority” to prevent its national rival from owning the future of the technology, arguing the US currently lagged in “almost every dimension” compared with China and other nations.

Deployment of 100,000 5G base stations by the US is dwarfed by more than 1 million installed in China.

Additionally, countries including Japan are more fibre rich than the US, making it harder for mobile operators to deploy small cells.

Schmidt and Allison noted China had spent $50 billion on 5G infrastructure and was on track to invest an additional $100 billion over the next five years.

In contrast, US emerging technology funding plans contained in legislation dubbed the Innovation and Competition Act would authorise $1.5 billion for building 5G networks until 2026.

Schmidt and Allison said the “pathetic” performance by the US in 5G was a sign of the country’s larger failure to keep up with China on other strategically-important technologies including AI, green energy and high-tech manufacturing.

They predicted China would outstrip US semiconductor production by 2030.

The pair also took aim at 5G data rates, claiming an average of 75Mb/s in the US compared with 400Mb/s for urban users in China.

A lack of low-latency 5G could have a knock-on effect on development and deployment of new services and applications including autonomous vehicles, VR and metaverses, they warned.