Friday, 18 September 2020 06:00

Australia would be world leader in 5G if not for Huawei ban: claim

Australia would be world leader in 5G if not for Huawei ban: claim Pixabay

Had Chinese telecommunications equipment vendor Huawei Technologies not been banned from tendering for Australia's 5G networks, there is no doubt that local operators — TPG, Vodafone and Optus — would have been among the most advanced 5G operators and competitors would be forced to keep up, the chief corporate affairs officer of the Chinese vendor's local operation claims.

Jeremy Mitchell was responding to a blog post titled "Australia needs to take the lead on 5G again" written by Rajiv Shah, a non-resident fellow with the International Cyber Policy Centre of the defence lobby group, Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

Shah, who runs a consultancy named MDR Security in Canberra, urged Australia to follow what he characterised as its bold steps in banning Huawei by joining in the setting of 5G standards and supporting groups like the open radio access network movement.

He claimed that despite the ban placed on Huawei and fellow Chinese vendor ZTE Corporation, there was still a vendor risk problem due to the presence of just two companies to supply equipment: Sweden's Ericsson and Finland's Nokia.

"The problem is that the market for 5G equipment vendors that we consider to be a reasonable level of risk is highly concentrated, with Nokia and Ericsson at the forefront. From a long-term resilience point of view, the dangers are clear. What happens if one vendor fails or becomes untrusted? What about the security risks if we use just one vendor’s kit everywhere and a vulnerability emerges?" Shah asked.

But Mitchell characterised these thoughts and the remainder of Shah's musings as chutzpah, saying the post conveniently omitted the fact that were it not for Australia playing a key role in the US-led campaign against his employer, Australia would be a clear global leader in 5G.

"That 5G ban in August 2018 delayed proper 5G deployment in Australia by at least two years with the operators in line to use Huawei 5G technology — Optus, Vodafone and TPG — all forced to ditch their well-crafted 5G deployment plans and scramble to replace their key vendor," he said.

"In the case of TPG, the 5G ban on Huawei forced them to cancel their planned urban rollout of 5G delivering ultra-fast fixed wireless technologies that would have provided much needed competition against services delivered over the NBN."

Since then, TPG and Vodafone have merged and are together known as TPG Telecom; the latter said well before the merger that it had selected Nokia to roll out its 5G network.

Among its sponsors, the ICPC counts auDA, Services Australia, AWS, Facebook, Twitter, Google, AISA, ADDAXIS, the Cyber Co-operative Research Centre, CyberCX, Fortinet, Palo Alto Networks, Jacobs, Microsoft, Thales, Splunk and UpGuard.

Mitchell said, when it came to 5G, ASPI was refusing to address the elephant in the room which was the fact that while Huawei was banned because it was Chinese, all the equipment going into the 5G networks in Australia was being made in China by other Chinese companies.

"Moreover, the US Department of Defence has even identified Telstra’s 5G supplier Ericsson’s joint-venture partner Panda Electronics as being associated with the People’s Liberation Army – an inconvenient truth for ASPI to be sure and one which they determinedly refuse to even acknowledge," he said.

"The answer to this is simple: why not test everyone’s 5G kit before it is deployed on networks to make sure it is safe and secure? After all, both Nokia and Ericsson enthusiastically support such a scheme in the European Union – as does Huawei – so why don’t they support it here?"

Mitchell said ASPI's support for the open RAN movement was not surprising given that it was supported financially by the US State Department - and all the vendors involved in the open RAN were American.

"ASPI is suggesting that Australia allows companies that are likely to take funding direct from the State Department – home of America’s intelligence agencies – to play a major role in delivering 5G in Australia," he said.

"ASPI is arguing for Australia to adopt open RAN technology that is completely unproven on a technical or commercial level and that has yet to demonstrate — unlike the technology delivered by established vendors — that it can deliver services in a secure manner."

Mitchell pointed out that Ericsson had expressed reservations about the security of open RAN, with the company saying recently: "Secure open RAN systems may require additional security measures not yet fully addressed, a trusted stack for software and hardware, and interoperability between vendors with a common understanding and implementation of security requirements."

During a recent forum on open RAN organised by the Federal Communications Commission, Nokia chief technology officer Marcus Weldon suggested that the industry should not adopt a “start-ups good, incumbents bad” mindset.

Mitchell invited ASPI to visit the city of Shenzhen and see what an advanced 5G market looked like.

"The city — home to some 13 million people — is already fully covered by 5G with tens of thousands of 5G base stations already deployed," he pointed out.

"As everyone in the industry knows 5G is only useful if it has ubiquitous coverage – you can’t have self-driving cars without every inch of the road network being covered – so Shenzhen is now focusing on building out those next-generation applications that will drive increased productivity across its economy.

"If ASPI and its backers in the US Government had not derailed Australia back in August 2018, then Australia would be in that position now with the ability to be leading the world in smart farming and next-generation mining technology – but the opportunity has been lost forever."

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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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