Is Huawei 5G Tech a Ticking Time Bomb You Should Worry About?
Huawei. Image used for representational purposes. 
Huawei. Image used for representational purposes. (Photo: AP)

Is Huawei 5G Tech a Ticking Time Bomb You Should Worry About?

The geopolitical tension between the United States and China has caused a bit of turmoil at the Huawei headquarters in Shenzen, China.

After the US banned American tech firms like Google and Intel among others from operating with the Chinese tech giant, Huawei has been digging for alternatives to offer support to its vast customer base as it manages to cling to the number two spot in the global smartphone market.

But, losing its smartphone market-share isn’t the company’s only problem. The United States has also been clamping down on Huawei’s 5G technology and is advising others to ban the Chinese firm’s hardware from their networks citing security concerns (without any empirical evidence).

But if not Huawei, what are the alternatives for 5G in the market? Will there be a problem with interoperability? Does Huawei’s 5G network pose a threat to cybersecurity?

We talked to some experts on the matter.

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Huawei Vs The World

Huawei is one of the world’s largest tech companies with a prominent 5G presence in Russia, parts of South-East Asia and even India.

The company has amassed a market share of over 30 percent in the telecom equipment industry which speaks volumes of how dominant it has been in this sector. Currently, Huawei, Nokia, and Ericsson are operating in this space.

According to a Strategy Analytics Report, Huawei is expected to have a 24.8 percent 5G subscriber share by 2023 which is a considerable number.

Expected 5G subscriber base for different vendors.
Expected 5G subscriber base for different vendors.
(Photo: Strategy Analytics Report 2019)

According to an article in The Economist, Huawei 5G technological solutions are not only more advanced, but are more affordable which is exactly why they are being used in the majority.

This has led to the company's ability to underbid and undercut its competitors which have fueled Huawei’s objectives in pursuing global dominance in the global telecommunications industry.

But just because the technology is cheaper, does that make it less secure or any different than what an American or European 5G tech firm is offering?

“We try to generalise security in the whole telecom environment which I don’t think is a regional problem like the US are more secure and Chinese are not secure. It is more related to which part of the network you are using the equipment and where specifically these deployments are made. So I don’t think there is any bifurcation or differentiation because we don’t have any empirical studies that support this fact that Chinese are less secure and US are more secure.”
Tarun Pathak, Associate Director, Counterpoint Research

As it stands, the US argues China's 2017 National Intelligence Law, which states that organisations must "co-operate with and collaborate in national intelligence work", could force Huawei to do the government’s bidding at some point.

There were questions raised about whether Chinese law “compels Huawei to install so-called 'backdoors' in telecommunications infrastructure.”

To counter the argument, Huawei has said that it has never been asked to spy and would refuse to comply if asked.

“We would never compromise or harm any country, organization, or individual, especially when it comes to cyber-security and user privacy protection.”
Huawei Global

Interoperability a Challenge?

It’s a no-brainer that Huawei’s 5G hardware kit is different from what others like Qualcomm, Samsung, and even Ericsson are manufacturing. Since that’s the case there has been speculation that interoperability is going to be the challenge.

We tried reaching out to the above companies and even Huawei on the matter. However, only Qualcomm agreed to speak.

Qualcomm Mobile Technologies, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Alex Katouzian said that despite differences in OEMs, data transfers should not be any problem as long as the frequency bands are supported.

Katouzian says, “When people were in 4G and 3G that transition was happening, they needed to clear the 3G spectrum out and have 4G takeover. This is not the case for 5G. 5G has a mode called Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) where you can use the same frequency band of LTE and deploy 5G. What the system does is in a very short amount of time can switch between 4G and 5G.”

He adds: “If the OEM who is producing the phone chooses to fit in all of those frequency bands the phone to be used in interoperability will be much simpler to use. But if the phone is allocated a certain frequency band for a certain geographical location it’ll be harder to use it in roaming.”

We tried to educate ourselves more on the subject by speaking with Tarun Pathak and learned that 5G connectivity and operations between the same carriers are much smoother than between two different operators.

For example, if you’re going with Ericsson-to-Ericsson deployment the shift is quite fast and it is very cost effective. But when 5G comes into the picture the complexities are huge, so you might try to mix and match with a lot of other tech to cut down your cost. But in terms of interoperability, yes, that will be an issue. Again it depends on the call of the operator. It depends which vendor you go for and also which part of the network you are deploying it in.
Tarun Pathak, Associate Director, Counterpoint Research

So it’s clear that interoperability in 5G will be a challenge due to certain caveats. Firms who want to make optimum use of 5G will have to use the same carriers else compromise in certain areas.

Basically, you’ll have to take the rough with the smooth if you’re using different carriers.

Future of 5G in Splits

Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Taiwan have taken a leaf from the US’s page banning Huawei 5G technologies and even Vodafone is stripping Huawei from its core network in the UK as per the new UK rules and EU guidelines.

The dream of a global connected 5G network is in a dire situation unless the dispute with Huawei Technologies gets sorted. Countries like France, Russia, Netherland, and South Korea have allowed Huawei’s 5G technology to be used while Canada, the UK, Italy, and Germany are on the fence.

Huawei has invested billions of dollars into preparing its 5G ecosystem and countries like India are heavily dependent on low-cost options for its 5G infrastructure. Even China has warned India about economic consequences if Huawei is excluded from 5G development and deployments.

So, unless a better and more economical option comes along the way, Huawei will have a role to play in the 5G infrastructure of many countries and others will have to just live with that fact.

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