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UK moots 5G club

  • Category
    Science & Technology
  • Published
    2nd Jun, 2020

The British government has approached the US with the prospect of creating a 5G club of 10 democracies, including India, amid growing security concerns related to Chinese telecom giant Huawei.

Context

The British government has approached the US with the prospect of creating a 5G club of 10 democracies, including India, amid growing security concerns related to Chinese telecom giant Huawei.

Background

  • The U.K. government had approved Huawei’s participation in its 5G network, but later capped the company’s network share at 35% following anger from the Trump administration, which has battled Beijing over the Chinese tech company’s increasing dominance in the global wireless industry.
  • The UK launched an inquiry into Huawei's involvement in the country's mobile network upgrade in the wake of US sanctions against the company.
  • The review into Huawei, launched by the UK"s National Cyber Security Centre, followed the announcement of US sanctions to block the sale of American chips to the company.
  • UK security officials fear that the ban will prompt China to use cheaper, less secure technologies, instead of verified US versions.
  • Officials are, meanwhile, examining proposals to curb the installation of Huawei kit in the 5G network from 2023.

Analysis

Understanding the 5G technology:

  • 5G is the 5th generation mobile network. It is a new global wireless standard after 1G, 2G, 3G, and 4G networks.
    • First generation - 1G
      1980s: 1G delivered analog voice.
    • Second generation - 2G
      Early 1990s: 2G introduced digital voice (e.g. CDMA- Code Division Multiple Access).
    • Third generation - 3G
      Early 2000s: 3G brought mobile data (e.g. CDMA2000).
    • Fourth generation - 4G LTE
      2010s: 4G LTE ushered in the era of mobile broadband.
  • 5G is based on OFDM (Orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing), a method of modulating a digital signal across several different channels to reduce interference.
  • 5G uses 5G NR air interface alongside OFDM principles. 5G also uses wider bandwidth technologies such as sub-6 GHz and mmWave.
  • 5G enables a new kind of network that is designed to connect virtually everyone and everything together including machines, objects, and devices.
  • 5G wireless technology is meant to deliver higher multi-Gbps peak data speeds, ultra low latency, more reliability, massive network capacity, increased availability, and a more uniform user experience to more users.
  • Higher performance and improved efficiency empower new user experiences and connects new industries.

What is the D10 club?

  • A so-called “D10" club of democratic partners, including G7 countries – UK, US, Italy, Germany, France, Japan and Canada – plus Australia, South Korea and India will aim to create alternative suppliers of 5G equipment and other technologies to avoid relying on China.

Reason behind the move:

  • The move to speed up such a club comes as the UK launched an inquiry into Huawei’s involvement in the country’s mobile network upgrade in the wake of US sanctions against the company.
  • Nokia and Ericsson are the only European suppliers of 5G infrastructure and experts say that they cannot provide 5G kit as quickly or as cheaply as Huawei.
  • Britain has labelled Huawei a high-risk vendor and therefore its involvement in the UK's 5G upgrade comes with a 35 per cent market cap, including a ban on its participation in the sensitive core of the network.

What the United States is doing?

  • The US in recent months has increased its action against Huawei, China's first global tech brand and a maker of network equipment and smartphones, preventing it from doing business in the US, as it believes the company known for its technological advancement in 5G is being used by the Chinese leadership to serve their interest.
  • The Trump administration says Huawei is a security risk, which the company denies, and is trying to persuade European and other allies to shun its technology for the next-generation telecom networks.
  • China has accused the US of raising phony security concerns to hurt a rising competitor to American tech companies.

Where this alliance will lead to?

  • More providers: The key thrust behind this alliance is to allow more and more 5G equipment and technology providers to come up.
  • Controlling security flaws: At the same time, ensure that these new entrants belong to like-minded democratic regimes, thus alleviating any security concerns.

Why India needs 5G technology?

  • The evolution of 5G is based on multiple pillars.
  • When compared to 4G, 5G offers much higher capacity, ultra-low latency, very high speeds and better security. In fact, 5G can even offer fibre-like speeds, wirelessly, on millimeter wave frequency.
  • Data consumption: India’s is the second biggest smartphone market in the world, leading to a meteoritic rise of data consumption. India consumes more than 11 GB/user/month — the highest in the world. Existing infrastructure will struggle to address the growing demand for data.
  • Lower fibre penetration: There is no practical way fibre connectivity can be enhanced quickly. This poses a serious challenge to back-haul capacities of the macro towers.
  • Industry 4.0: The Fourth Industrial Revolution (aka Industry 4.0) is powered by emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, Internet of Things, Edge Computing, which need 5G to be effective.
  • Smart cities: 5G powers the technology driving smart cities. As India moves ahead with its Smart City vision, it must leverage 5G to ensure that the underlying technology remains relevant for a longer time.
  • Economic benefit: The economic impact of 5G in India is likely to be $1 trillion. By delaying 5G rollout, India stands the risk of missing out on the first flush of the 5G powered innovation cycle.
  • As such, the case for immediate roll out of 5G networks in India is compelling. It is no longer a choice but a pre-requisite for the country’s growth and development. 

The future of 5G technology in India:

  • Worldwide, more than 40 telecom operators have already launched 5G. But given the current turmoil in India’s telecom industry, pundits continue to question the need — and viability — of launching 5G here.
  • While 5G phones are already available in India from Realme and iQoo, both Chinese-owned, the 5G spectrum and the networks are going to take time.
  • 5G networks were once expected to be launched in India by late 2020 or early 2021, but it’s now highly unlikely that this could happen before mid-2021.
  • Even if a date is soon set to auction the spectrum and the telcos quickly find the money to buy it, they still need to perform a lot of tests before launching commercial service.
  • Ericsson, a network equipment vendor based in Sweden, has said 5G service is likely to be available in India only from 2022.

Conclusion:

The plan to form a democratic alliance in order to marginalise the Chinese tech giant Huawei comes at a time when there is rising global backlash against China for its initial handling of the coronavirus outbreak. There is also growing consensus among the British political class regarding resetting relations with Beijing, following the global pandemic and the havoc it has caused in the UK. Moreover, there has been a concerted effort by the US and several other countries to keep Huawei away from their countries’ 5G networks. These countries have raised concerns regarding potential surveillance and breach of their national security by China using the state-run Huawei.

 

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