5G technology is the latest buzzword. There is a rush by countries, almost like the rush to the moon of the 1960s to be the first to launch it. 5G is going to revolutionize the internet, no doubt about that, but rushing to install the system might backfire. Huawei, one of the biggest telecom companies in China has aggressively marketed 5G and made the impression that it is either Huawei 5G or no way, which is ironic considering internet censorship in China.
The giant firm has declared itself the leader in 5G technology, has been busy trying to secure partnerships around the world and has secured over 50 contracts in 30 countries. In Europe, Huawei has a campaign that urges residents to vote for 5G. The UK government announced in January 2020 that it might allow Huawei to build its 5G infrastructure, which sparked a controversy about the Chinese government’s intentions, with the U.S President Donald J. Trump threatening to downgrade the U.K’s access to U.S intelligence.
President Trump accused the Chinese government of intending to use the giant telecoms company to spy on the British and other countries. He further enforced a ban on Huawei and its products and urged other countries to do the same.
What is 5G and what are its capabilities?
To understand why the controversy came about, we need to understand what 5G technology is, and why it is so important to the world. 5G technology is the fifth generation mobile network that will, in the long run, replace, or augment 4G LTE. 5G promises lightning download and upload speeds, which are 20 times faster, and better communication with wireless networks. 5G will revolutionize how devices in future smart cities connect, including the support of autonomy, which included autonomous vehicles and robots.
5G network promises greater capacity and can support applications that use huge bandwidth to run simultaneously and not slow the network. 5G, like other networks, is transmitted via radio waves, and it used 4G frequencies and a much faster frequency known as millimeter wave technology. This technology enables the 5G speed and capacity, albeit at shorter wavelengths. The shorter wavelength makes the millimeter technology poor at transmitting effectively through objects. 5G is sensitive to environmental factors such as wind and rain. To counter these issues, 5G will have to have more repeaters to spread the wave further and boost transmission over longer distances.
The great 5G controversy
China is a communist state and has a draconian policy that compels companies to share information. Huawei denies that the government can compel it to hand over information, but the fact that the government can, builds mistrust among the world’s nations.
Internet censorship in China is the worst in the world, with every foreign website such as Google and YouTube blocked. It is very hard for the West to trust China when it imposes social control on its citizens. It is not the first time Huawei will be under scrutiny and the company has been banned from involving itself with installing 5g mobile networks in New Zealand, Australia, and India. Huawei cannot make any acquisitions in the U.S and banned by the Pentagon from selling phones on military bases.
Concerns about Huawei partly stem from the fact that other than the Chinese law that compels disclosure, its founder Ren was an engineer in the People’s Liberation Army, and has ties with the Communist Party. Considering the sheer volume of cyber-attacks and espionage that originate from China which targets both nations and companies, questions arise about Huawei’s technology security implications, considering it was founded by a tech-savvy ex-military.
Huawei’s security risks
The consensus among some nations in the West is that Huawei’s 5G could be used for cyber-espionage and to spy on their foreign competitors, installs kill switches in industrial or energy projects, or to steal intellectual property. Some experts have gone ahead to warn that in a conflict, China could exploit backdoors hidden in Huawei technology and shut down the infrastructure of a foreign power.
Huawei is no stranger to controversy, especially when it comes to intellectual property theft. In 2003, Huawei was taken to court by Cisco who claimed Huawei stole its source code, which subsequently appeared in different Huawei Products. T-Mobile also sued Huawei and the Chinese company found guilty of stealing intellectual property.
As mentioned before, the biggest worry by western nations is that the Chinese government will use the 5G technology to spy on them. Huawei denies claims that the state can compel it to give up information, but the reality on the ground says otherwise. China’s domestic regulation makes it mandatory for companies to share data with the government. There are serious security implications in allowing such a company to have access to communication infrastructure.
The impact of China’s tech growth on the world’s privacy
China’s State Council has an ambitious plan for its AI vision, which consists of a $15 billion tech industry and dominating the AI market by 2030. The availability of huge data, the controlled tech industry, and few privacy protections mean that the Chinese are well placed to become leaders in the development of big-data technology.
Internationally and in this big data era, cross-border transfers of data due to the interdependent global economy have become a huge issue for state and private actors. Enactment of the Cybersecurity Law sets data localization needs. These regulations require foreign companies to install new data servers in China that will be monitored by the government, or partner with local providers such as Alibaba or Tencent.
The fact that Apple migrated its China iCloud to Guizhou Big Data and Amazon sold off its cloud assets to a local partner are only two instances of how China is tightening data retention and transfer rules, and how it affects the world’s privacy in the grand scheme of things.
Requiring localization means the Chinese are pooling all data under their jurisdiction and making it a lot easier for them to access data and penalize those they deem to be violating their vague internet regulations.
China’s tech is rapidly expanding, and with it, the western nations are becoming increasingly uncomfortable. With Huawei claiming to be the world leader in 5G, the world’s nation fears that they might be mining data for the Chinese government.