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What You Need to Know About 5G in 2020

LAS VEGAS — Like many consumers, Kathryn Schipper, an attorney in Seattle, doesn’t have a landline. She relies on her smartphone for calls and videoconferencing, but reception is spotty.

So she is excited about the arrival of 5G, the fifth-generation wireless network that has been the subject of breathless speculation over the last few years. The new cellular standard, carriers have said, will reduce network congestion and pump out data so fast that smartphone users could download all the “Avengers” movies in a few minutes. It might even eventually help cars drive themselves.

“5G seems like orders-of-magnitude improvement,” Ms. Schipper said. “I’ve also heard it’s much more reliable, so that matters to me.”

Yet the shift to 5G feels like a tech revolution happening in slow motion. In 2019, AT&T and Verizon, the two largest American carriers, lit up their 5G networks in a small number of cities. Handset makers released only a handful of phones compatible with the new standard. The overwhelming majority of us saw no meaningful improvement to our cellular networks.

At CES, the big consumer electronics show in Las Vegas this week, the carriers are insisting that 2020 will be a turning point for 5G. AT&T and Verizon say they expect their 5G networks to be accessible nationwide this year. In addition, the carriers say at least 15 smartphones will be 5G compatible this year, more than triple the number last year.

“2020 is pivotal because you’ve got a good foundation built, and the ecosystem starts to form,” said Kevin Petersen, a marketing executive for AT&T.

So what does that even mean? A major technology shift is underway, which may have an impact on your personal technology in the coming years. And unlike its predecessors, 5G is complex and more confusing.

Here’s what you need to know:

In the simplest terms, 5G is a new cellular standard. Phone carriers have jumped to a new wireless standard roughly every decade. About 10 years ago, 4G, the fourth-generation network, arrived with significantly faster speeds and stronger reliability than 3G. About a decade before that, 3G arrived and was much faster and more robust than 2G. You get the picture.

Unfortunately, 5G is more complicated. There are a few flavors of 5G described with deeply technical jargon.

To make 5G easier to swallow, let’s rename the jargon into ice cream flavors:

  • The much-hyped, ultrafast variant of 5G is known as “millimeter wave,” but let’s call it rocky road. It lets carriers transmit data at incredibly fast speeds — the kind that would let you download an entire movie in a few seconds.

    The problem with rocky road is that its signals travel shorter distances, covering a park in New York but not a broad swath of the city, for example. It also has trouble penetrating obstacles like walls. So Verizon and AT&T have focused deployment of rocky road in large spaces like sports stadiums and outdoor amphitheaters.

    Because of the technical limitations of rocky road, we are unlikely to see it deployed nationwide anytime soon (if ever), meaning we won’t be getting these incredible speeds in the vast majority of places.

  • Instead, this year our cellular networks will broadly shift to a version of 5G that is less exciting. Let’s call this vanilla 5G.

    Vanilla 5G will have speeds that are only slightly faster than current 4G networks. The main benefit will be a reduction of lag known as latency. For example, when you do a web search on your phone, the results usually won’t load immediately; the lag can often last hundreds of milliseconds. In theory, 5G technology will shave this latency down to a few milliseconds. (To be clear, rocky road offers low-latency benefits, too.)

    AT&T and Verizon say their 5G networks, which will be made up of mostly vanilla 5G and small scoops of rocky road, should be activated nationwide this year. T-Mobile, which put a priority on deploying vanilla 5G over rocky road, said its 5G network was available nationwide last year.

    In short, the broad shift to 5G won’t be mind blowing, but you will probably notice a marked improvement.

In some cases, yes. While Wi-Fi is also very fast, it pulls data from a broadband connection, which is susceptible to degraded performance when others nearby are using it. By design, 5G transmits high amounts of data more efficiently, so it is expected to significantly mitigate network congestion. There is a high likelihood that you will get a consistently strong, faster connection on 5G.

Yes. You will have to buy a new phone with a 5G modem to connect with the new network technologies.

Most current 5G-compatible phones are expensive: Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G, for example, costs $1,300. But as the technology becomes more common in the next few years, prices should drop.

The carriers are still tinkering with pricing.

Verizon’s earliest 5G plans charged an extra $10 a month for people with compatible smartphones to gain access to 5G. (It is currently waiving that fee as it builds out its 5G network.) However, Ronan Dunne, a Verizon executive, said the carrier was planning different types of packages. Some with access to both vanilla 5G and rocky road 5G could be priced higher, while plans with only vanilla 5G might be priced lower. (He declined to share specific prices.)

“Here’s a plan which says this plan comes with ultralow latency, and it’s part of a gamers’ package, or it might be part of a movie and entertainment package,” Mr. Dunne said. “Because of this ability to separate components of the network, you can see an evolution of a new type of pricing and plan model.”

AT&T’s so-called unlimited extra plan, which includes 5G access, costs $75 a month for an individual line.

T-Mobile said access to its 5G network was available to its subscribers at no additional cost.

AT&T, unfortunately, made 5G extra confusing for its customers. In late 2018, it rebranded parts of its existing 4G network as “5GE.” So AT&T customers with older 4G-compatible phones started seeing a “5GE” status icon on their screens.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s ignore 5GE altogether. It’s not real 5G.

AT&T’s vanilla version of 5G is branded 5G, and its rocky-road version is labeled 5G Plus.

It depends on where you go. (Some countries still lack thorough 4G coverage.) China is poised to have the largest 5G network in the world, and 5G is well underway in Japan and South Korea. The European Union’s goal is to release 5G in at least one major city in each member state this year, according to a study conducted for the European Commission.

The benefits will probably feel subtle and significant.

Lower latency is crucial to future mobile applications. It could make virtual reality work more smoothly — like if you were watching a virtual-reality broadcast of a live sports game and wanted to look around the stadium.

Reduced lag may also improve gaming: If you were playing a shooting game with friends online, there would be less delay between button presses and your actions in the game.

A reduction in latency will also help internet-connected devices talk to one another immediately. That is why technologists are looking to 5G deployment as a crucial step toward a world of autonomous cars. If one car is 5G equipped and so is the other, they can tell each other when they are braking. Or if the vehicle is signaling to turn right, it can communicate the turn to cars behind it so they can slow down or switch lanes.

“You can see why that’s not very relevant today but very useful tomorrow,” said Frank Gillett, a technology analyst for Forrester Research.

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The Tech That Will Invade Our Lives in 2020

The 2010s made one thing clear: Tech is everywhere in life.

Tech is in our homes with thermostats that heat up our residences before we walk through the door. It’s in our cars with safety features that warn us about vehicles in adjacent lanes. It’s on our television sets, where many of us are streaming shows and movies through apps. We even wear it on ourselves in the form of wristwatches that monitor our health.

In 2020 and the coming decade, these trends are likely to gather momentum. They will also be on display next week at CES, an enormous consumer electronics trade show in Las Vegas that typically serves as a window into the year’s hottest tech developments.

At the show, next-generation cellular technology known as 5G, which delivers data at mind-boggling speeds, is expected to take center stage as one of the most important topics. We are also likely to see the evolution of smart homes, with internet-connected appliances such as refrigerators, televisions and vacuum cleaners working more seamlessly together — and with less human interaction required.

“The biggest thing is connected everything,” said Carolina Milanesi, a technology analyst for the research firm Creative Strategies. “Anything in the home — we’ll have more cameras, more mics, more sensors.”

If some of this sounds the same as last year, it is — but that’s because new technologies often take time to mature.

Here’s what to watch in tech this year.

In the last few years, Amazon, Apple and Google have battled to become the center of our homes.

Their virtual assistants — Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri — respond to voice commands to play music from speakers, control light bulbs and activate robot vacuums. Smart home products work well, but they are complicated to set up, so most people use virtual assistants just for basic tasks like setting a kitchen timer and checking the weather.

Then in December, Amazon, Apple and Google came to what appeared to be a truce: They announced that they were working together on a standard to help make smart home products compatible with one another.

In other words, when you buy an internet-connected light bulb down the line that works with Alexa, it should also work with Siri and Google Assistant. This should help reduce confusion when shopping for home products and improve the ease with which connected gadgets work with one another.

Ms. Milanesi said that eliminating complexity was a necessary step for the tech giants to achieve their ultimate goal: seamless home automation without the need for people to tell the assistants what to do.

“You want the devices to talk to each other instead of me being the translator between these device interactions,” she said. “If I open my door, then the door can say to the lights that the door is open and therefore the lights need to turn on.”

If and when that happens, your home will truly — and finally — be smart.

In 2019, the wireless industry began shifting to 5G, a technology that can deliver data at such incredibly fast speeds that people will be able to download entire movies in a few seconds.

Yet the rollout of 5G was anticlimactic and uneven. Across the United States, carriers deployed 5G in just a few dozen cities. And only a handful of new smartphones last year worked with the new cellular technology.

In 2020, 5G will gain some momentum. Verizon said it expected half the nation to have access to 5G this year. AT&T, which offers two types of 5G — 5G Evolution, which is incrementally faster than 4G, and 5G Plus, which is the ultrafast version — said it expected 5G Plus to reach parts of 30 cities by early 2020.

Another sign that 5G is really taking hold? A broader set of devices will support the new wireless standard.

Samsung, for one, has begun including 5G support on some of its newer Galaxy devices. Apple, which declined to comment, is also expected to release its first 5G-compatible iPhones this year.

And 5G will be going to work behind the scenes, in ways that will emerge over time. One important benefit of the technology is its ability to greatly reduce latency, or the time it takes for devices to communicate with one another. That will be important for the compatibility of next-generation devices like robots, self-driving cars and drones.

For example, if your car has 5G and another car has 5G, the two cars can talk to each other, signaling to each other when they are braking and changing lanes. The elimination of the communications delay is crucial for cars to become autonomous.

It’s a time of intense competition in wearable computers, which is set to lead to more creativity and innovation.

For a long while, Apple has dominated wearables. In 2015, it released Apple Watch, a smart watch with a focus on health monitoring. In 2016, the company introduced AirPods, wireless earbuds that can be controlled with Siri.

Since then, many others have jumped in, including Xiaomi, Samsung and Huawei. Google recently acquired Fitbit, the fitness gadget maker, for $2.1 billion, in the hope of playing catch-up with Apple.

Computer chips are making their way into other electronic products like earphones, which means that companies are likely to introduce innovations in wearable accessories, said Frank Gillett, a technology analyst for Forrester. Two possibilities: earphones that monitor your health by pulling pulses from your ears, or earbuds that double as inexpensive hearing aids.

“That whole area of improving our hearing and hearing the way other people hear us is really interesting,” he said.

We have rushed headlong into the streaming era, and that will only continue.

In 2019, Netflix was the most-watched video service in the United States, with people spending an average of 23 minutes a day streaming its content, according to eMarketer, the research firm. In all, digital video made up about a quarter of the daily time spent on digital devices last year, which included time spent on apps and web browsers.

Netflix’s share of the overall time we spend watching video on devices will probably decline in 2020, according to eMarketer, because of the arrival of competing streaming services like Disney Plus, HBO Max and Apple TV Plus.

“Even though Americans are spending more time watching Netflix, people’s attention will become more divided as new streamers emerge,” Ross Benes, an analyst at eMarketer, said in a blog post.

So if you don’t like “The Mandalorian,” “The Morning Show” or “Watchmen,” you won’t change the channel. You will just switch to a different app.

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Blocked in U.S., Huawei Touts ‘Shared Values’ to Compete in Europe

BRUSSELS — The committee room of the European Parliament was crowded with lawmakers and lobbyists who were facing off with executives of the telecommunications giant Huawei. One lawmaker, eager to raise the trust issue, got directly to the point: Could Huawei be a front for Chinese state espionage?

Abraham Liu, the company’s top official in Europe, pushed right back. Huawei, he said, is completely independent, with no obligation to spy for China, and to do so “would be like committing suicide.”

Then he added a twist — and a veiled swipe at Huawei’s loudest critic, the Trump administration: It is Huawei, not America, that shares European principles.

“Europe’s values of openness, innovation and the rule of law have led to it being a powerhouse in mobile communications — and Huawei shares these values,” Mr. Liu said.

In Washington, Huawei is treated like a grave security risk over concerns that Chinese intelligence agencies could use the company’s technology to infiltrate the systems of foreign customers. Yet in Brussels, the European Union’s de facto capital, the company is waging a multifaceted charm offensive, partly by exploiting European distrust toward the Trump administration — and, for now, it is working.

As the company competes to build Europe’s next-generation 5G wireless networks, Huawei is spending millions of dollars on an intensive advertising and lobbying campaign, while making a bold argument to European policymakers: That while the Trump administration is unpredictable and unreliable, Huawei is a guarantor of privacy, transparency and globalization.

The message hasn’t gone unnoticed, nor has the irony.

“The Chinese have started brazenly claiming that it is China, not the United States, that shares more values with Europe,” said Julianne Smith of the German Marshall Fund in Washington.

“Chinese scholars and officials also frequently remind European audiences that unlike the United States, China believes in climate change and multilateralism, a message that is especially powerful in a place like Germany,” she said.

To push its message, Huawei has made unexpected moves. One is the hearing, in October, in which Mr. Liu spoke about values. It was not a case of a corporate leader being hauled before lawmakers for a grilling. Instead, Huawei had organized the “public debate” with members of the European Parliament, live-streamed the proceeding and posted the video online.

In the United States, the Trump administration has essentially blocked Huawei, but Mr. Trump’s efforts to push European allies to ban Huawei have fallen flat.

Neither the European Union nor individual countries have moved to restrict the company’s access to their markets. Hungary, whose far-right prime minister, Viktor Orban, identifies himself as a Trump ally, announced in November that Huawei would lead its 5G infrastructure rollout.Even as government officials have debated its role, Huawei has forged ahead, and says it has already made dozens of deals to sell 5G hardware to wireless carriers across Europe. The extent of its involvement is unclear, because a single carrier can buy gear from multiple vendors, and some pieces of equipment are more security-sensitive than others.

And at a NATO gathering near London this month, when Mr. Trump pressed Prime Minister Boris Johnson to shut Huawei out of Britain, Mr. Johnson — who has postponed a decision on the question — was noncommittal.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in an opinion piece published by Politico Europe, implored policymakers “not to give control of their critical infrastructure to Chinese tech giants.”

To a degree, European policymakers in charge of assessing risks to cybersecurity share the United States’ concerns about Huawei. A recent European Union report highlighted, without naming Huawei, that a non-European 5G technology provider could be forced to allow its government to hack into and even control its networks, enabling access to private data, trade secrets and national security operations.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that Huawei should be allowed to compete for 5G contracts, but other politicians have pushed back, indicating that the company could be in for a fight there.

“No Chinese company is an independent company,” Norbert Röttgen, a former government minister from Ms. Merkel’s party, said recently, adding that Huawei’s involvement was “an imminent question of national security.”

Yet one German telecommunication company, Telefonica Deutschland, has announced that it intends to contract Huawei for its 5G development.

European Union rules make it difficult to target individual companies for political reasons. The bloc could impose stringent standards of conduct and openness for 5G contractors that could be used to restrict Huawei but, as yet, has simply let each member country to decide how to proceed.

Distrust toward the Trump administration is also a significant factor, as European policymakers worry that American sanctions on Huawei are simply a bargaining chip in the United States’ broader trade war with China and might be reversed.

“There is a fear that if you take what potentially are quite expensive decisions with regards to 5G because the Americans have told you that they are a security problem, and then President Trump gets a trade deal with China and suddenly Huawei is all O.K. again, then you’ll feel like the earth has moved under your feet,” said Ian Bond, director of foreign policy at the Center for European Reform, a policy group in London.

Years before the advent of 5G, Huawei was establishing a major presence in Europe, where it ranks third in mobile phone sales, behind Samsung and Apple. The company says it has 12,000 employees, and 23 research and development centers in Europe, a way of building favor and familiarity with policymakers.

And it has moved boldly to position itself in Brussels.

Huawei has spent more than $3 million this year on advertising and lobbying, according to its disclosures in the European Union lobbying registry. That is more than the combined spending of its European 5G competitors, Ericsson and Nokia, and far more than its American rival, Qualcomm.

In a huge advertising campaign this year, the company plastered banners featuring happy faces at Brussels Airport and in key spots around the city.

“Vote for 5G,” they read. “#Vote Smarter.”

In a press packet sent to hundreds of journalists there, Huawei argued that “It is crucial to roll out 5G the European way, in line with European values.” Huawei, it added, was best placed to guarantee those values.

The company also placed advertising in the most insider-focused journalism product in town, Politico Europe’s daily newsletter. “Brussels Playbook, presented by Huawei — Vote for 5G,” the subject line of an early-morning email read in late May this year.

Huawei has made donations to at least two major research institutions in Brussels that study European policy. Several other institutions receive funding from the Chinese government.

For Huawei, public records show that the amounts are relatively small, about $55,000 per organization. But they guarantee that the company is a player in the Brussels policy machinery.

In an interview, Mr. Liu said the company spent money on advertising and lobbying because of “attacks from the U.S. toward Huawei.” He said the company was “obliged to talk to the stakeholders in Europe and also the rest of the word, because the U.S. is very powerful — the U.S. government is super-powerful.”

“They’re trying to murder us,” he said.

In many ways, Huawei is using the Brussels playbook of major American technology players like Google, which has pioneered the use of public advertising campaigns in Brussels to influence legislation or regulations. The two companies even share a small, unassuming office building three blocks from the European Commission, where Google occupies three floors and Huawei one.

A review of the European Commission’s transparency register shows that Huawei employees met with top officials from the Commission, including commissioners and their top civil servants or members of their cabinets, 46 times in the past five years. The vast majority of those meetings were about 5G, the register shows.

Mr. Liu says his company’s continued presence in Europe demonstrates Washington’s failure to show any concrete evidence of wrongdoing by Huawei.

“It’s not fair on us as a private company to face such a challenge from a superpower,” he said. “And for Europe, we appreciate that the European stakeholders take a different approach.”

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At the Edge of the World, a New Battleground for the U.S. and China

TORSHAVN, Faroe Islands — The mere existence of the Faroe Islands is a wonder. Tall peaks of snow-patched volcanic rock jut out from the North Atlantic Ocean. Steep cliffs plunge into the deep waters of narrow fjords.

The remote collection of 18 small islands, which sit between Iceland and Norway, is known for a robust puffin population and periodic whale hunts. The semiautonomous Danish territory also has a thriving salmon industry.

Technology is not a common conversation topic among its 50,000 residents. Yet in recent weeks, the Faroe Islands have turned into a new and unlikely battleground in the technological Cold War between the United States and China.

The dispute started because of a contract. The Faroe Islands wanted to build a new ultrafast wireless network with fifth-generation technology, known as 5G. To create that new network, the territory planned to award the job to a technology supplier.

That was when the United States began urging the archipelago nation not to give the contract to a particular company: the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei. American officials have long said Huawei is beholden to Beijing and poses national security concerns.

Then Chinese officials got involved. A senior Faroe Islands government official was recently caught on tape saying that the Chinese had offered to boost trade between the territory and China — as long as Huawei got the 5G network assignment.

“Commercially, the Faroe Islands cannot be very important to Huawei or anybody else,” Sjurdur Skaale, who represents the territory in the Danish parliament, said over breakfast in the capital of Torshavn this week. “The fact that the Chinese and American embassies are fighting over this as hard they are, there is something else on the table. It is about something else than purely business.”

Image
Credit…Ben Quinton for The New York Times

No location is now too small for the United States and China to focus on as they tussle over the future of technology. The Faroe Islands, whose proximity to the arctic gives it added military importance, joins countries across Europe caught in the middle of the two superpowers over Huawei, the crown jewel of the Chinese tech sector.

For more than a year, American officials have applied pressure on Britain, Germany, Poland and others to follow its lead in banning Huawei from new 5G networks. They argue the company can be used by China’s Communist Party to spy or sabotage critical networks. Huawei has denied that it helps Beijing.

But if the European nations side with Washington, they risk harming their economic ties to China, which has a growing appetite for German cars, French airplanes and British pharmaceuticals.

In the Faroe Islands, Bardur Nielsen, the prime minister, has tried defusing the conflict. In a statement, he said his government “has not been pressured or threatened by foreign authorities in relation to the development of a 5G network in the Faroe Islands.”

Any decision about awarding a contract to Huawei, he said, would be made by the local telecommunications company, Foroya Tele.

Foroya Tele said in a statement that it is testing different technologies. The choice of a 5G network provider, it said, “requires significant considerations given the scale and importance of the investment for the Faroe Islands.”

For the people of the Faroe Islands, the debate over Huawei and 5G is rooted in salmon more than in download speeds.

Salmon is central to the territory’s economy. More than 90 percent of the Faroe Islands’ exports are fish, including salmon, mackerel, herring and cod. In the surrounding waters, thousands of salmon can be seen splashing inside large netted rings, where they are bred for meals in Paris, Moscow, New York — and, increasingly, Beijing.

After 2010, the islands’ salmon exports to China picked up. At the time, the Chinese government had slowed the purchase of the fish from Norway in response to the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo in Oslo.

China now makes up about 7 percent of the Faroe Islands’ salmon sales. The Faroese government this year opened an office in Beijing to further expand trade.

In 2014, the islands’ salmon sales to Russia exploded after the European Union limited what fish other countries could export there. Those rules do not apply to the Faroe Islands because it is not a part of the European bloc.

In all, salmon exports from the Faroe Islands are expected to top $550 million this year, up from roughly $190 million a decade ago.

“This is the home place of Atlantic salmon,” Runi Dam, a consultant for local fishing companies, said while standing over giant pens filled with about 15,000 salmon each. “We have the perfect environment.”

Now the salmon business has become entangled in the fight over the 5G wireless network.

Credit…Ben Quinton for The New York Times
Credit…Ben Quinton for The New York Times

Last month, America’s ambassador to Denmark, Carla Sands, went public with warnings against Huawei. In an opinion piece in the local Faroe Islands newspaper, Ms. Sands said there could be “dangerous consequences” if the company was allowed to build the 5G network. When countries let Huawei in, she said, “they agree to work under Chinese communist rules.”

In another interview with Danish Broadcasting this week, Ms. Sands accused a Huawei executive responsible for the Nordic region of “working for the Chinese communists,” who are “exporting their spying, their corruption and bribery around the world.”

Ms. Sands declined to be interviewed.

At the same time, China’s ambassador to Denmark visited the Faroe Islands at least twice in the past two months.

This month, the Danish national newspaper, Berlingske, published the transcript of an audio recording in which a senior Faroe Islands official is summarizing one of the meetings. Herálvur Joensen, a senior aide in the Faroese government, was caught on tape saying China’s ambassador had threatened to block a trade deal — and more fish sales — if Huawei was not used for the 5G network.

“If Foroya Tele signed agreement with Huawei, then all doors would be open for a free-trade agreement with China,” he said in the recording. “If this doesn’t happen, then there won’t be a trade agreement.”

A spokesman for the prime minister said Mr. Joensen had not attended the meeting with the Chinese ambassador and was not available for an interview.

Credit…Ben Quinton for The New York Times
Credit…Ben Quinton for The New York Times

Huawei’s critics jumped on the revelations, saying the leaked recording showed the close links between Huawei and the Chinese government.

China’s ambassador, Feng Tie, wrote in Berlingske that the country did not pressure the Faroe Islands. “It’s my duty to secure that Huawei is treated fair and without discrimination in Denmark,” he said. “It’s not at all in Chinese culture to promote threats. Promoting threats is more known from the U.S.”

Huawei said in a statement it was not involved in any talks between the two governments.

In villages and harbors around the islands, people said they were bewildered about being thrust into a battle between China and the United States.

“It is a lice between two nails,” said Rógvi Olavson, who lives in Torshavn and is a lecturer at the local university. “You’re squeezed by the U.S. on the one hand and China on the other.”

While many residents said the Faroe Islands prefer the United States over China, several expressed anger at American officials for demanding that Huawei be banned. They said the company helped build the existing 4G network, which they use to make phone calls or share photos from some of the more far-flung areas of the islands.

Sissal Kristiansen, who designs sweaters and other clothing from Faroese wool, said she had listened to a recent interview with Ms. Sands.

“It awoke this, ‘Oh bugger off’ feeling in me,” she said. “We make our own decisions.”

Others are wary about harming economic ties with China, which they fear will retaliate if Huawei is not selected for the 5G network. Many locals remember an economic crisis in the 1990s, when about 10 percent of Faroese residents ended up moving abroad.

Today, unemployment on the islands is almost nonexistent — just 183 people were out of work as of Friday, according to government statistics. Like other Nordic countries, health care, education and other social services are free. There is virtually no crime.

“China is not just a nice customer, it is a necessity,” said Martin Breum, an arctic expert who has written about the Faroe Islands. The Faroese, he added, “have nothing else to sell to the rest of the world. They live off their fish.”

Martin Selsoe Sorensen contributed reporting from Copenhagen.

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How a Top Antitrust Official Helped T-Mobile and Sprint Merge

WASHINGTON — As the $26 billion blockbuster merger between T-Mobile and Sprint teetered this summer, Makan Delrahim, the head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, labored to rescue it behind the scenes, according to text messages revealed this week in a lawsuit to block the deal.

Mr. Delrahim connected company executives with the F.C.C. and members of Congress. And he gave executives insight into the thinking of Ajit Pai, the chairman of the F.C.C. who would also have to approve the merger.

He is “open and willing” to discussions about the deal, Mr. Delrahim said in one text message in June, a month before regulators blessed the transaction.

The messages between Mr. Delrahim and the executives involved in structuring one of the telecom industry’s most significant mergers in generations provide a rare inside look at the hands-on work the Justice Department’s top antitrust official undertook to shape the deal.

While it is not unusual for a law enforcement official to work behind the scenes to help companies overcome antitrust concerns, efforts like the one undertaken by Mr. Delrahim are almost always hidden from view.

The text messages show that he played a crucial role in bringing together top executives of T-Mobile, Sprint and another company, Dish, for negotiations. The Justice Department has said it would not have approved the merger without the emergence of another competitor like Dish.

The Obama administration rejected an earlier proposed merger between the companies, and it remains deeply unpopular with some consumer groups who fear it will increase prices for Americans, especially in rural areas.

Mr. Delrahim oversaw the often hostile talks between the companies, while pulling strings to get lawmakers and other regulators on board.

“Had a generally good chat with the chairman,” Mr. Delrahim wrote to Charles Ergen, the chief executive of Dish, the company that would prove crucial to the deal’s passage. The following day he encouraged Mr. Ergen to lobby lawmakers to urge Mr. Pai to approve new deal terms that would give Mr. Ergen more time to build out a competitive telecom business.

Mr. Ergen did so. He told Mr. Delrahim that he had “very good” meetings in Washington and that he talked to Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, about the deal, according to the text messages.

When asked about the text messages, a Justice Department spokesman said that “the Antitrust Division is proud of its work in reviewing this important merger on behalf of the American consumer,” but declined to comment further.

T-Mobile and Dish declined to comment on the messages, which were submitted as evidence in a legal challenge to the merger led by the New York and California state attorneys general. Sprint didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

The messages also show that SoftBank, the Japanese conglomerate that owns the majority of Sprint, discussed lending Dish money to buy the assets it needed to become a telecom company.

In such an arrangement, SoftBank would essentially be financing a competitor to its own company, Sprint. But SoftBank also stood to lose financially if a Sprint-T-Mobile merger did not happen.

SoftBank declined to comment on Thursday.

In one strained exchange, Mr. Ergen told John Legere, the chief executive of T-Mobile, that he was still working to get terms of a deal done, pending board approval and “any other issues from our/your team.”

“And waiting on Softbank to finance the deal?” Mr. Legere wrote.

Mr. Ergen said publicly this week that several potential lenders had emerged to help his company buy assets, including JPMorgan Chase and SoftBank.

Sprint and T-Mobile, the third- and fourth-largest wireless companies, announced their latest merger plans in April 2018. The carriers promised their union would allow them to combine resources and bring the next generation of wireless broadband, known as 5G, for fifth generation, to rural America. They would have a combined 80 million United States subscribers.

The Justice Department announced its approval of the deal in July, citing the creation of a fourth and new competitor in Dish, which would buy assets from Sprint and T-Mobile to become a telecom company. In a parallel review, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission announced it planned to approve the deal weeks later.

The merger is being challenged in court by several states and cannot close until that lawsuit is resolved. State attorneys general in New York and California are unconvinced that Dish will provide true market competition.

“Dish is a struggling satellite TV firm with no experience running a mobile wireless business — and no current mobile wireless business,” Paula Blizzard, California’s deputy attorney general, said on a call with journalists this month. “We cannot count on Dish one day in the future somehow growing into a viable wireless company equal to Sprint’s reach today.”

Mr. Delrahim was pressured to block the merger throughout the department’s review. Several Democratic lawmakers, consumer groups and state attorneys general said the deal would harm consumers by reducing the number of national wireless carriers to three from four. The reduction in competition would most likely lead to higher consumer wireless bills, the critics warned.

To salvage the deal, the companies came up with a solution: bring in Dish Network to buy some of their wireless assets to form another competitor and maintain four national mobile carriers.

Mr. Delrahim told reporters at a press event in July that the deal would not have passed muster without Dish, which had agreed to buy Sprint’s prepaid wireless service, Boost, for $5 billion, as well as other assets from T-Mobile.

“We were prepared to sue to block the deal,” Mr. Delrahim said in July, when he announced his approval.

In texts sent this May and June, Mr. Delrahim helped coordinate meetings between Mr. Ergen, Mr. Legere and Marcelo Claure, the chief operating officer of SoftBank and the chairman of the Sprint board, as they negotiated asset sales to Dish.

“I anticipate being part of the meeting and then leaving it to you guys to hash out details as needed,” Mr. Delrahim wrote in one text to Mr. Ergen about a meeting with Mr. Legere.

The telecom executives gave Mr. Delrahim regular updates on their often difficult negotiations. Both T-Mobile and Sprint executives were frustrated at times with Mr. Ergen, who told them he needed time to get his board to approve aspects of the deal.

“Why do you always play games. You got a deal of a lifetime and don’t blow it,” Mr. Claure told Mr. Ergen. “And you control your board.”

Mr. Legere and Mr. Ergen were sometimes hard to wrangle. At one point, when Dish sought funding from SoftBank, Mr. Legere was indignant.

“You’ve crossed the line,” he wrote. “For full disclosure (which may be a new term to you) I have told Makan I don’t believe you are serious about doing a deal.”

Mr. Delrahim seemed aware of the friction. In one set of messages, he invited Mr. Ergen to a meeting the next day with Mr. Legere and Mike Sievert, the president of T-Mobile, in his conference room at the Justice Department. “2pm confirmed,” Mr. Delrahim wrote. “I have not told John and Mike the meeting is w you yet, I will tell them in the AM.”

But the day the meeting was scheduled, Mr. Delrahim gave Mr. Ergen an update about a long talk he had held with Mr. Legere, Mr. Sievert and Mr. Claure.

“John is going to reach out to you,” Mr. Delrahim wrote. “May make good sense for you all to meet alone at 2, and then we all meet later today? I will make myself available.”