Commerce Secretary Wilbur Russ signaled Tuesday that if a Sprint-T-Mobile merger proved a 5G spur to AT&T and Verizon, that could be a good thing.
The CEOs of Sprint and T-Mobile, which have proposed yet again to try and merge -- their third attempt -- pitched the deal as a way to beat China to the next-gen wireless broadband punch.
In an interview on CNBC, Ross was asked whether the companies' CEOs were correct that China was ahead of the U.S.
Ross said it was hard to say who was ahead or behind until the technology was "truly perfected," which he said has not happened yet.
But he described the pitch from Sprint and T-Mobile that their merger "would propel Verizon and AT&T into more active pursuit of 5G" as "an interesting one."
Commerce does not have a role reviewing the proposed deal, but its National Telecommunications & Information Administration is the White House's top communications policy adviser.
"Whoever pursues it, whoever does it, we're very much in support of 5G," Ross said. "We need it for defense; we need it for commercial purposes; we really need to be a player in 5G."
Former FCC chair Tom Wheeler has been arguing that a shared commercial 5G network with some government participation (given national security implications) was preferable to counting on the merger of the third and fourth largest wireless companies to advance U.S. 5G.