But China is investing heavily in technology.
"China is going down this road and they said it was one of their top priorities in terms of economic development and security," Stephenson said.
He lamented that obtaining a permit may take two or three years, or even start working on a new cell site in the United States, and that the process is advancing much faster in China.
But there is another hurdle for US companies in the 5G race. The Chinese company Huawei is leading the way in producing the necessary network components – and the US government has banned the company from bidding for contracts with the US government. Federal employees are also prohibited from using their products.
Stephenson said the government was right to be cautious about where the equipment came from, but suggested that officials do not do a good job of explaining why the security risk exists.
"For me, the biggest risk is not that the Chinese government listens to our phone conversations or exploits our data, how to use our equipment.This is not the problem," he said.
Stephenson worries however about how the 5G equipment could possibly be connected to millions of devices related to the US infrastructure – including autonomous cars, manufacturing workshops, refineries and traffic management in cities.
"We need to ask ourselves a question: if much of our infrastructure was to be associated with this type of technology, do we want to be cautious about who is the company behind this technology? said Stephenson.
Stephenson said that Europe had no choice because it was using Huawei for its 4G network and that the company did not allow interoperability with 5G.