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It was around this time last year that the Federal Government banned Huawei from participating in the 5G mobile infrastructure rollout. This was due to national security concerns, specifically because the tech giant was "likely subject to extrajudicial directions from a foreign government [China] that conflict with Australian law".
The director-general of the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), Mike Burgess, defended the ban, stating that the entire project could be easily undermined by a potential threat anywhere in the network. He stated that “The risks could not be higher…” potentially affecting the ability to protect essential systems such as electricity, water and health care.
Both Huawei and Chinese run ZTE have been accused by US Congress of being associated with Chinese intelligence services, and at the very least would be compelled to hand over data to the Chinese government, despite claims from both companies that they wouldn’t do so if asked.
David Kennedy, APAC Practice Leader at Ovum, which is a business intelligence company, thinks this ban will have an impact on the Australian market.
“My prediction is that the ban is going to either slow down roll-outs or increase capital requirements. Either way, there are implications for the viability and scalability of the industry”. He also believes the ban will impact pricing and innovation, especially given the advances in IoT that come from China.
The other potential impact that will concern most consumers is speed. 5G reportedly offers top speeds of 10 gigabits per second, which is 20 times faster than the current 4G offering. While it may be a ‘nice to have’ for downloading movies and for gaming (we know, we’re excited too), the advantage comes into play for businesses that will be able to benefit from the increases in productivity.
Any barriers to access may, rightly, cause disharmony amongst business leaders. After all, here in Australia, we’re resentfully aware of our slow internet speeds when compared to many other countries, so increases from 5G will definitely be embraced.
Beyond the obvious benefits of being super speedy, 5G also offers stability and reliability. But it also relies on standardisation, and this could be a critical factor given Chinese tech companies, including Huawei, own a third of the patents relating to 5G.
The size and ease of installation of base stations are important considerations when looking at how 5G (or lack thereof) impacts infrastructure. Their relatively small size means that they can be installed more densely (which is needed to provide the best coverage) when compared to traditional mobile towers. But the issue is that Huawei is said to be ahead of the competition with the technology that enables 5G rollout.
US President Donald Trump signed executive orders banning Huawei from the US in May (which were still in effect as recently as 14 August) and the Australian government’s stance is very similar, so we don’t expect to see any changes in the short term.
Even Google now has to answer to Congress about joint projects with Huawei, so there doesn’t seem to be any chance that this hot topic will cool off any time soon. Google has until 30 August to respond, so watch this space!
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