It’s the next generation of wireless technology, what people are calling “5G” that will bring the so-called “internet of things” to life.
How we get there, who builds out the network and who codes the software, is a subject much under debate in global capitals from Washington to Beijing, with one or the other likely to lead the way.
Up until now, it might have been reasonable to consider the competition between technologies and approaches to be much like what would occur when major breakthroughs occur that fundamentally change the world.
Think of the competition between Edison and Tesla, one advocating for alternating current and the other for direct electrification lighting America’s cities. Or the battle conducted against all comers by RCA’s David Sarnoff to make sure it was his company’s version of the color television process that became the industry standard.
That apparently is not the case here. There’s reason now to believe, and evidence to back it up, that the Chinese plan for 5G is part of what may be a decades-long effort to become the world’s dominant superpower.
The existence, going back as far as 2011 and recently uncovered by Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, and various other outlets, of “vulnerabilities” in equipment the Chinese tech giant built for Europe’s Vodaphone puts the so-called “competition” in an entirely new light.
Most Chinese businesses get significant subsidies from the government. Here, those subsidies allowed Huawei to sell its telecommunications equipment at below market cost to governments throughout the world at something less than market rates.
That’s not an opportunity many nations can afford to turn down 00 which means Huawei’s equipment is everywhere despite the significant security risks it poses to any network using it.
Like most every other Chinese multi-national, Huawei must comply with the demands of the state intelligence agency. That could include sharing the information transmitted on its 5G equipment or leaving hidden “backdoors” open for government agencies to use later — as some fear was the case with the equipment sold to Vodaphone.
As reported in The Daily Mail, a study conducted by former British government security adviser Peter Varnish, OBE concluded, in the paper’s words, “Huawei is almost entirely answerable to Chinese state spies … despite a minister’s claim that the tech firm is a ‘private company.'”
This should leave folks ill at ease yet, despite these concerns, countries are already working with China to deploy 4G technology and are talking with Huawei about buildout of a 5G network. This includes some of America’s closest allies.
They may want to rethink both approaches. Huawei’s 4G networks are built so that they are not interoperable with other vendors. If you have their 4G you must use them for 5G or start all over again.
That’s bad business. Unless they want to become captive customers, the countries now dealing with Huawei need to demand interoperability be introduced into their systems. And they, like the United States, need to be wary of the security issues going forward.
Our future national security depends on keeping a close eye on China and its surrogates, especially companies like China Mobile and Huawei here and abroad.
5G in the U.S. will be a success story, there is no reason to doubt that. Our nation’s wireless carriers successfully deployed 3G and led globally in their deployment of 4G. FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai standing shoulder to shoulder with support from President Donald Trump to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to completing a 5G rollout.
Announcing the release of more wireless spectrum and curtailing regulatory hurdles that stand in the way of deploying small cells 00 5G base stations the size of a pizza box — on buildings and structures in cities and towns across America is just the start.
To win the race, for ourselves and for the world, we need to make sure the process and the technology remain secure and competitive.
Peter Roff is a senior fellow at Frontiers of Freedom and a former U.S. News and World Report contributing editor who appears regularly as a commentator on the One America News network.
Follow him on Twitter @PeterRoff.
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