The European Union (EU) is currently researching how best to utilize 5G technology for its member states and digital economy in the hope of being at the forefront of the industry. In 2013, the EU established an initiative to research the budding technology and determine how best to implement it.
However, the EU has also voiced concerns over the security of the technology, particularly as it relates to Huawei, a Chinese-based tech company. These concerns are shared by other nations, the United States in particular.
EU report on 5G development
In October 2019, the European Commission (EC) released a report for all EU member states that identified, according to a press release, “the main threats and threats actors” of 5G. It also discussed “the most sensitive assets, the main vulnerabilities … and a number of strategic risks” that could be associated with the technology.
The report found security challenges would mostly be related to 5G-related technology innovations and suppliers. It states that leaving these matters to a single company would be a risk to the EU. It has been suggested this was a veiled criticism of Huawei, a Chinese company considered a leader in the development of 5G and which is looking to accelerate that development.
Security experts have warned the technology could be left open to concealed technology and spyware. The EU report calls 5G networks “the future backbone of our increasingly digitized economies and societies.” It also said, in the near future, the security, energy, transportation, banking and health industries would all be reliant on 5G, which is why it is so important the technology is secure and safe from spying or breaches – intentional or otherwise.
What is 5G?
The expansion of cellular wireless networks has led to the development of 5G, or the fifth generation of mobile technology. Each successive generation of wireless networks – from 1G to 4G – has represented a “leap forward” in terms of speed and data transfer. 5G has been in development for years – at least since 2008 – although the burgeoning necessity for it was known well before then.
While the earlier generation of cellular networks was designed around mobile phones and other similar devices, the future of technology is likely to be total connectivity. This revolution of so-called ‘smart’ devices is building toward the Internet of Things.
What is the Internet of Things?
Increasingly more technology is being linked to wireless networks, a development that is generally referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT). Items ranging from watches to refrigerators to lamps and even coffeemakers are all being developed to link to the Internet. As this trend continues, existing networks will not be able to support the increased traffic.
The new wireless architecture and communication technology that 5G will create is said to be the necessary infrastructure to support the IoT. With 4G moving toward obsolescence, 5G networks will increase data rates while decreasing delays between data transfers (known in the industry as latency) – paving the way for a completely interconnected world of technology.
Who is Huawei?
Headquartered in Shenzhen, China, Huawei (pronounced wah-way) is a multinational company that specializes in telecommunications technology. The company was founded in 1987 by Ren Zhengfei who remains the company’s CEO. On the consumer side, Huawei is a producer of laptops, tablets, watches and smartphones, as well as related accessories. In 2019, it was second only to South Korean company Samsung in smartphone sales.
The company is also heavily focused on research and development (R&D). In 2018 alone, it spent more than $15 billion dollars on R&D, putting it behind only Google, Volkswagen and Samsung for such investment.
US conflict with Huawei
The relationship between Huawei and the United States has been strained for most of the year. In May, the Trump administration placed the company on a blacklist for trade, which requires the US government to sign off on any trade between Huawei and tech companies.
While the US argued the blacklisting is a matter of national security, China accused Trump of bullying the company as part of the ongoing trade war between the two countries. The security concerns of the US echo those of the EU, namely that Huawei’s technology could be used to spy on foreign nations on behalf of China. Huawei has claimed they would resist any efforts by the Chinese government to use their technology for such use, but this hasn’t quelled the concerns.
Despite the blacklist, Huawei has reportedly continued to see strong growth in 2019, selling even more phones this year than it did in 2018, when it surpassed Apple in global smartphone sales. In 2018, Huawei also exceeded $100 billion in revenue for the first time in its history.
As a response, the US is currently considering even stricter regulations on Huawei.
Even as this conflict remains in the headlines, China has announced the development of a 6G network.