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Chinese Tech Giant Huawei — Friend/Foe, Neither/Nor…or Somewhere In Between?
America ranks 30th in mobile speed. Not only do we pay more for access but without a shift onto the 5G network, we’ll be paying more for…
America ranks 30th in mobile speed. Not only do we pay more for access but without a shift onto the 5G network, we’ll be paying more for an increasingly slower network.
However, compared to current mobile speeds around the world, America ranks a distant 30th.
While most American telecom companies have introduced 5G to their networks, to describe the US roll-out as sluggish would be an understatement.
The one company looking to expedite this and make an inroad into the American 5G market is Chinese tech giant Huawei. But in May of 2019, the Trump administration slammed the brakes on the tech behemoth.
ENEMY OF THE STATE
The Trump administration feels that Huawei poses an “unacceptable” risk to national security, which includes the infrastructure of the internet. This prompted President Trump to declare “a national emergency” and placed Huawei on the US Entity List. This list, issued by the US Department of Commerce, restricts those on it to severe exporting, re-exporting and transfer rules.
The Entity List is essentially a blacklist.
President Trump claimed that if Hauwei gained access to that kind of infrastructure there could be “potentially catastrophic effects.” Setting aside the fact that it’s dubious that Donald Trump knows anything about technological infrastructure, there is no denying that security risks in technology are real.
All snark aside — isn’t the internet as a whole is one giant security risk?
One of the Trump administration’s chief concerns is that Hauwei “can be compelled by Chinese law to hand over data or spy on behalf of the Chinese government.” That’s a fact.
However, it would be negligent to ignore the impact of lobbying on behalf of the Telecommunications Services industry. Two of the largest were AT&T who spent about $13 million and Verizon who spent $10 million. Considering that Sprint and T-Mobile are in the middle of a merger, it’s not surprising the Telecom Services industry spent $101 million on lobbying and political contributions in 2019.
Corporations treat Washington D.C. the way a puppet master treats a puppet.
MEANWHILE, IN EUROPE
Even though America has legally restricted Hauwei from attempting access, the tech giant has been pitching the European Union with success. Because markets like the UK, Spain, and Italy have a fragmented spectrum market their pitch emphasizes who important the speed of 5G would be. Going one step further, Hauwei asserts their technology is “one generation ahead” of what is currently available.
The pitch has proven successful. Huawei has signed contracts to establish 5G networks with 47 European vendors, including America’s strongest EU ally, Britain.
In a rare act of defiance against President Trump, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson has greenlit the company’s help in building out its 5G network. The British PM rationalized it by saying Hauwei will not be included in the country’s “core functions” and only operating in about “35% of the overall network.”
This is much to the chagrin of British conservative and Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage.
In a recent op-ed piece, the conservative lighting rod said there was “no room for compromise” and that Britain must reverse course and not partner with Huawei. Farage said that Britain must “remain with the Western democracies that have always been our allies” or
risk falling “in with the Chinese Communist Party.”
Farage is parroting what US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said back in December of 2019 in a similar op-ed piece. Pompeo stated that under Chinese Intelligence Law, the Chinese Communist Party can “force any 5G supplier headquartered in China to turn over data and take other actions in secret.”
ACCUSATIONS AGAINST HUAWEI
Providing no evidence, and not adequately connecting the dots, Pompeo further claimed that China had been spying in the Czech Republic, Poland, and the Netherlands. He also accused them of “corrupt practices” in countries like Algeria, Belgium, and Sierra Leone.
Pompeo said the US Department of Justice has charged members of the hacking group APT 10 of working with the Chinese Ministry for State Security. The DOJ claims that the hackers have attacked dozens of European and American firms stealing both intellectual property and sensitive personal information.
Huawei’s response to all of this has been simple: it’s not a security threat.
Huawei leaders have said that the US has not provided evidence that it works inappropriately with the Chinese government — or that it would in the future.
They also claim there are ways to mitigate any security risk, ones that have worked in other countries.
PUNDITS CHIME IN
In an interview at The Verge, seven China-watchers, professors and politicians were asked if Huawei was a security threat. Six of the seven agree with OpenVPN CEO Francis Dinha who said: “The US is right to treat Huawei as a security threat…” BUT he was also quick to point out that “No matter what equipment we use for 5G, there will be security risks.”
The dissenting voice was Qing Wang, Professor of Marketing & Innovation at the University of Warwick. Wang likens Hauwei to another Chinese based e-commerce, retail, and technology company, Alibaba — which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange and has a valuation of $500 billion (US). Alibaba is considered one of the 10 most valuable companies and is the 59th biggest public company in the world.
For Wang, Huawei, like Alibaba was a decade ago, is a textbook case of a great company on the rise. However, they’re being prohibited from achieving their full potential because of the “anti-globalization policy and sentiment of the US and the ongoing trade war with China.”
One American company feeling the pinch of the blacklisting is Google. Since any American company is unable to do business with Haiwei, the tech company is forbidden from loading its usual native suite of Android and Google apps and services on new Huawei phones.
Google issued a release saying that due to the ban on Huawei, they’re unable to certify new Hauwei phones — which run on Google’s Android Operating System.
In an appeal to dissuade Huawei’s phone users from sideloading the missing Google apps, Android & Play legal director Tristan Ostrowski said: “the risk of compromised security either in the devices or via an app that has been tampered with.”
There can be no denying two things:
One is that 5G is here and it’s inevitable.
There are security risks.
With that being said, there are security risks all over the internet. Are there ways to capitalize on the opportunities of a 5G network and while still marginalizing security risks? Of course.
But fear-mongering is easier and infinitely cheaper than research and development.
Besides, for every security risk thwarted, there will be loads of hackers looking for a way to subvert that. Show me a hacker who doesn’t thrive off a challenge and I’ll show you a New York City football fanatic who loves Tom Brady of the New England Patriots.
The White House claims to be working with American tech companies to create secure software to run on the next generation of 5G networks. However, it faces a real problem that to do that effectively it would need the telecom and technologies to agree on two things:
Common engineering standards.
Making sure that those common engineering standards would be able to run code on any hardware manufacturer’s devices.
Considering that many of these companies consider their technology to be their lifeblood, that seems unlikely.
Furthermore, even if that happened, it would only lessen, not eliminate any reliance on Hauwei — provided the company made inroads.
In the tech world, you never want to be playing catch-up. America is playing catch-up which portends that our current ranking of the 30th fastest mobile speed in the world will only fall further. It also places the two things America claims to love most, capitalism and Americans, in jeopardy.