Thursday, 14 March 2019 08:47

Turnbull accused of spreading '5G myths' in London Featured

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Turnbull accused of spreading '5G myths' in London Pixabay

Former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has been accused of spreading myths about the lack of separation between the 5G core and radio access network during a speech he gave in London last week.

Huawei Australia corporate and public affairs director Jeremy Mitchell said in a blog post that many myths had been spun by anti-Huawei forces, "but there is one that was swallowed hook, line and sinker by the Turnbull Government and proudly used as a reason to block Huawei from 5G (though they were not brave enough to publicly name Huawei, ZTE or China)."

As with all op-eds, the post carried a disclaimer that these were his own views and not necessarily those of the company.

Mitchell was referring to the ban imposed on the Huawei and ZTE bidding for contracts in the 5G networks that are expected to be rolled out across Australia in 2019 and the following years. It was announced shortly before the government dumped Turnbull as leader.

During his speech, to the Henry Jackson Society, a neoconservative British foreign policy think-tank, in London on 5 March, Turnbull said: "Network function virtualisation and mobile edge computing means processing, or intelligence, will be distributed throughout the network, and the old distinction between the core and the radio access network (or edge) will no longer be applicable."

Mitchell said this falsely suggested that the edge or radio access layer of the network could not be sufficiently secured in a 5G network.

"[Is] the motivation for this position is to give justification on why Huawei was allowed to become the largest 4G vendor in Australia (with over half of Australians using some sort of Huawei equipment for mobile broadband), but is now all of a sudden not allowed to deliver 5G?" he asked.

"The US provided the perfect answer and this myth was born after the PM’s visit to the US in February 2018. Problem is what they said (and Turnbull is now continuing to say) just isn’t true." The reference was to a warning by the US to Turnbull not to use 5G equipment from Huawei in Australia, something iTWire also reported.

Last November, as iTWire  reported, a 5G trial in Auckland conducted jointly by Huawei and New Zealand telco Spark, showed that this claim was just that – a claim.

The trial used a Huawei 5G NR (New Radio on both the C-band and mmWave) and a 4G Radio Access Network, both of which were deployed by using dedicated hardware connected to the Cisco Evolved Packet Core, with each component isolated.

Mitchell did not mention it, but similar claims about a lack of separation between the 5G core and the RAN have been made by the director of the Australian Signals Directorate Mike Burgess and Nigel Phair, director of UNSW Canberra Cyber, as pointed out by Dr Mark Gregory, a network expert from RMIT University, recently.

The Huawei official pointed out that it was not only his employer which was saying the core and the RAN would be separated in 5G networks.

"It’s not just Huawei saying this, but also the other vendors who are developing 5G; the global standards body setting the rules of 5G (3GPP); and the operators delivering 5G globally. But most importantly, and more embarrassingly for Turnbull, even the UK Government’s cyber security experts are also saying the edge of the network can be secured under 5G," he said.

He cited Ian Levy, technical director of the UK National Cyber Security Centre, as saying: "When you push core services closer to the edge, you can also push out the security services that support and protect them. This is the ‘mobile edge compute’ part of 5G.

"Now, in theory, you could push those services to the very edge of the network (that is, to each individual base station). That would be utterly crazy though, since it would be a massive pain to run the network, you couldn’t secure it properly and — more importantly — there’s no use case currently anticipated that would require it. In the UK, we currently reckon that we’ll push core services out maybe as far as large metropolitan areas.”

Mitchell also cited Turnbull's statement that, "one of the final decisions of my government was to ban telecommunications companies which could not meet our security requirements (such as Huawei and ZTE) from providing equipment to our new 5G phone networks, on national security grounds.”

And he asked, "So how exactly was Huawei supposed to meet the government’s security requirements if it didn’t know what they were? How can we play by the rules if no rules are set or given? Huawei was playing the game blindfolded."

Mitchell said Turnbull's inclusion of a reference to the Parliament house breach in his London speech — “We saw in Australia only last month a cyber attack by a 'state actor' on our parliamentary computer systems, reaffirming the need to be innovative and agile in dealing with the growing threat" — gave the false impression that Huawei was somehow complicit in this too.

"For the record there is no Huawei kit in Parliament House," he said. "In fact, it is mostly US equipment that the hackers have allegedly walked through. This highlights that removing one particular vendor doesn’t remove the threat. [The] same goes for 5G."

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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