The adoption of the fifth generation (5G) mobile network in regions like North America, Gulf Cooperation Council and Western Europe has been relatively slow, but its uptake is expected to reach over 80% by 2027 against the backdrop of increasing 5G smartphone use.
On the other hand, in Africa, where 5G adoption is slowest in the world, 5G mobile subscriptions are expected to hit just 10% in the same comparative period, according to the latest Ericsson mobility report.
Some of the continent’s biggest telecoms — like Safaricom and MTN — are creating space for 5G growth by expanding infrastructure, but the low penetration of 5G devices, which remain unaffordable to many, is standing in the way of mass adoption.
Most (80%) of the mobile devices shipped to Africa in the second quarter of this year cost under $200, according to International Data Corporation (IDC), an indicator of low purchasing power, and a confirmation that it will take some time before 5G devices are within the reach of the average smartphone user on the continent.
During the roll out of its 5G network on Thursday, East Africa’s biggest mobile network operator (MNO), Safaricom, said it’s initially prioritizing enterprises and homes over the masses, due to the low penetration of 5G phones.
Safaricom is the dominant mobile network in Kenya, and the parent company of M-Pesa, one of the biggest mobile money platforms in the world. The company plans to tap demand for high-speed internet by businesses and people working from home before introducing packages for its subscribers later in the year. It is also looking at regions beyond Kenya’s capital, Nairobi (where it has not laid out its fiber optic network) to drive its 5G fixed wireless access (FWA) subscriber base.
Safaricom’s chief executive officer (CEO), Peter Ndegwa, said the approach has been inspired by the low penetration of 5G mobile phones as the operator only has 200,000 5G devices on its network, representing 0.5% of its 41 million subscribers.
“The adoption of 5G smartphones remains low, largely due to the high cost of the devices. We will continue to work with our partners who sell devices or who supply devices and leverage our pay as you go device financing solutions to avail more affordable both 4G and 5G smartphones,” said Ndegwa.
MTN, while leading the adoption of 5G in Africa, had only reached 200,000 of its 35 million customers in South Africa by the end of last year.
However, despite the increasing infrastructure investment, the sluggish 5G adoption is expected to continue as the bulk of smartphone shipments into Africa focuses on 4G support, in a continent where a majority (43%) are still using 3G devices.
According to the IDC, 5G devices accounted for 7.6% of smartphone shipments (although it grew slightly from the previous quarter) into Africa in the second quarter of this year, which is miniscule when compared to 3G and 4G devices, which accounted for 18.5% and 73.9%, respectively.
The 5G networks offer super-fast internet speeds, low latency, and are capable of supporting up to a million devices over a square kilometer –10 times more gadgets than 4G networks. For enterprises, the network can be tapped to automate a wide range of processes in industries such as mining and manufacturing, to increase capacity and efficiency.
What’s more illustrative of American capitalism than that day-after water cooler chat about the advertisements we saw during the Super Bowl? From food delivery apps to phones that were shockingly not made by Apple, tech companies commanded our attention last night, forcing us to explain to our friends that NFTs aren’t the same thing as cryptocurrency.
On scales of cringe and effectiveness, here are the Super Bowl’s best (and worst) tech ads.
A QR code bounced around the black screen like a DVD screensaver, cycling through bright colors while a generic techno song played.
I pulled out my phone to scan the QR code, because why not — my friend yelled from across the room, “Don’t do it! It could be a virus! Or worse, crypto!”
Sure enough, the QR code opened the Coinbase website on my phone, offering $15 in free Bitcoin for new users with no purchase necessary. According Coinbase Chief Product Officer Surojit Chatterjee, the ad was so popular that Coinbase experienced more traffic than it’s ever encountered.
@coinbase just saw more traffic than we've ever encountered, but our teams pulled together and only had to throttle traffic for a few minutes. We are now back and ready for you at https://t.co/ZUJqRlnZPH. Humbled to have been witness to this. #WAGMI
Clearly the ad was effective because their website crashed from all the traffic. But since, you know, the website crashed, they have to lose some points.
I’m also not sold on the “Instead of talking about crypto, we decided to just… give you some” marketing tactic. Like any investment, knowing what you’re investing in is probably a good thing! Sure, you have to engage in the market to get a grasp on it, but also, it’s baffling that none of these crypto commercials actually explained what it is that they want consumers to invest in.
The retro aesthetic is actually kind of cool. The bouncing QR code was a risk, but I remember this ad more vividly than any others, so it worked. But the QR code directs you to a website with the offer information, and that website is a bit cringe. Coinbase writes “WAGMI” on the site, which is crypto-bro slang for “we are gonna make it,” which means, “we are one of the startups that isn’t going to burn out in a few years and cause many people to lose money.” But maybe saying WAGMI implies a fear that you’re NGMI?
Yet another cryptocurrency exchange platform, the Bahamas-based FTX reached a $32 billion valuation last month after raising another $400 million in funding. Some of that budget has to go to marketing, so why not hire the famous curmudgeon Larry David to film his first Super Bowl commercial?
The premise of the commercial is that the “Curb Your Enthusiasm” star is so skeptical of everything that he’s missed out on some great investments — he tells Edison that his lightbulb is NGMI (not a direct quote), and that using a dishwasher doesn’t make sense when you can just put the dishes in the shower (gross).
Larry David doesn’t understand crypto, so that means this emerging industry must be pretty, pretty, pretty good.
According to the New York Times, FTX and ad agency dentsuMB considered 80 scripts before deciding on this concept, which positions decentralized finance as a light bulb-like innovation. Then, after four days of filming with the “Seinfeld” co-creator, the ad took 280 hours to edit, condensing 7.5 hours of footage into 60 seconds — then, they spent another 200 hours to create teasers for their ad.
All in all, you gotta respect the effort (plus, Larry David is my problematic fave). But damn. That’s a lot of time and money to go into an ad that doesn’t teach you anything about how crypto works.
Yet another crypto exchange with an exorbitant marketing budget, Crypto.com took a similar approach to FTX. They wanted star power, and they wanted to convince viewers that cryptocurrency is just a natural next step for technology. But their choice of talent was maybe more familiar for sports fans. In the thirty-second spot, LeBron James tells a younger version of himself that “if you want to make history, you gotta call your own shots.” Then, a Crypto.com logo appears on the screen.
We like to see sports stars on TV. But this ad told us even less about crypto than Coinbase and FTX did. Then again, this ad probably cost way less than FTX’s ad, rife with costumes and set changes and special effects.
I want to know more about the physics involved here. How did LeBron go back in time? Will telling his younger self about crypto rupture our current timeline so that LeBron never made the NBA, meaning that South Florida never had a successful professional sports team in the twenty-first century? So many questions.
Not only did Facebook rebrand to Meta, but they also rebranded their VR headset from the Oculus Quest — the name of the VR company they acquired — to just the Meta Quest.
The ad is confusing and depressing. Basically, some animatronic musicians — who work together at a Chuck E. Cheese-like place — lose their jobs and can’t hang out anymore. But by using their Meta Quest 2, they can forget about life’s challenges and be legless avatars together in Horizon Worlds, the company’s social gathering app.
If the goal is brand recognition, well okay then. But the ad comes off kind of like, “Are you unsatisfied with the real world? Try the metaverse!” Also, Horizon Worlds is nowhere near as polished as the ad makes it seem, so minus points for ingenuity.
They could have tried to hire Larry David, but they did not.
To showcase its Pixel 6 phone, Google collaborated with superstar Lizzo to highlight its Real Tone feature.
“Every single yearbook photo of mine has been terribly shot since I was a kid,” a voice narrates over a picture of friends in graduation garb — those with the darkest complexions blend into the background of the photo.
Then, Google shows photos taken with its Real Tone feature, which uses computational photography technology to properly expose photos of people with varying skin tones. The photos are gorgeous, displayed while Lizzo sings an unreleased track.
They got a new Lizzo song in their commercial. To quote TechCrunch’s own Annie Saunders, “I did not watch the Super Bowl, but I did see Lizzo’s Pixel ad on Instagram, and everything Lizzo does is Right and Good.”
There’s really nothing cringe here, but you could say Google’s market share in the smart phone business compared to Apple is a little cringe for them.
Miley Cyrus and her godmother Dolly Parton teamed up to advertise T-Mobile’s 5G network in a series of two thirty-second spots. In the first ad, Dolly Parton appears in a PSA, urging people to switch over from AT&T or Verizon for the sake of their phones. Then, she calls Miley, urging her to use her voice to save the phones. In the next ad, we see Miley belting out heartfelt lyrics like “let’s do it for the phones/they do so much for you” in a recording studio. She even belts, quote, “T-Mobile” while wearing a black blazer and leather gloves.
I paid attention, because I think Dolly Parton and Miley Cyrus are fun. They might have punched down at other networks’ allegedly worse 5G coverage, but hey, in the spirit of football, go for that tackle or something.
On Uber Eats, you can order home essentials like tinfoil, sponges and candles — not just food. So, the ad shows us what happens when celebrities like Jennifer Coolidge, Gwyneth Paltrow, Trevor Noah and Nicholas Braun get confused about what is or is not food.
I now know that I can get tinfoil in a pinch on Uber Eats. But this feels like it’s covering up a marketing “oopsie,” like maybe when they launched Uber Eats, they should’ve chosen a name that would encompass what they refer to as both “eats and not eats.”
They used the song “Oh No” by Capone, which went viral on TikTok about a year ago. It’s kind of cringe to appeal to a younger audience by leveraging a trend that is no longer relevant.
Since the release of smart home, voice-controlled devices, Amazon has had to mitigate a recurring fear among consumers: is Alexa watching me? Does she know too much? What if she becomes too powerful?
But, Amazon decided to show an audience of millions of viewers what would happen if Alexa could read your mind. When actress Scarlett Johansson wakes up next to her husband, “Saturday Night Live”‘s Colin Jost, Alexa reads his mind and places an order for extra-strength mouth wash. When Johansson wants Jost to stop talking, Alexa activates their loud blender.
Ultimately, Jost and Johansson decide that that mind-reading devices would ultimately be bad, but… I guess the point of the commercial is to entertain, not to explain what the product does? Jost does successfully ask his smart device to turn on the TV, though, which does display some of Alexa’s less-terrifying skills. It’s because it’s like she can read your mind, she doesn’t actually read your mind … right?
The ad was kind of funny! But laughing at an advertisement made by Amazon is cringe. We are bringing the cringe here, it’s our fault.
Amazon teased that Prime Video will become the exclusive home for Thursday night football, marking the first year of an eleven-year deal between Amazon and the NFL.
Starting September 15, fans can watch Thursday night football games exclusively on Prime Video. It’s clear! It’s short! It’s an advertisement specifically geared toward the audience of football fans, and guess who watches the Super Bowl? Football fans!
“We have to live in this world without games all the way until next season,” the voiceover tells us while someone grows a huge, unruly beard due to his post-football depression. Bestie, other sports exist!
James Trainor is former assistant director of the FBI’s Cyber Division and a senior vice president at Aon.
Rick Varnell is a founder and principal partner at 5G LLC.
Matt Davis is a founder and principal partner at 5G LLC.
The race to deploy 5G infrastructure has unlocked a new use for the rooftops of restaurants, hotels, residential buildings, and even hospitals and churches. These rooftops are quickly becoming prime real estate targets for telecommunication leaders eager to establish 5G technology in highly populated areas.
In fact, next-generation wireless deployments are positioned to be one of the largest allocators of lease revenue in the United States over the next five years, creating a seismic opportunity for landlords and other business owners.
The Biden administration has made expanding the country’s 5G infrastructure a national priority. The $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package earmarks $65 billion in funding to expand broadband coverage to rural and underserved communities. Despite its speed and power relative to other wireless technologies, 5G has a much shorter range, only reaching up to about 1,500 feet.
5G technology is uniquely suited to deployment on existing building rooftops because of the reduced antenna heights for the next-generation wireless network.
In addition to the major wireless communications providers, new entrants in the 5G deployment race include traditional cable companies and Big Tech firms. Together, these companies are forecasted to invest an additional $275 billion to deploy their 5G macro and small-cell sites. The only effective and efficient way to deploy the sheer quantity of deployment sites required is to leverage existing buildings. In other words, the solution to the 5G race is to adopt a rooftop deployment strategy.
Historically, the wireless communications market has been challenging to navigate for real estate and other business owners. Wireless carriers and tower companies have in the past entered into long-term agreements that often were less than advantageous to the property owner.
In many communities, there’s strong opposition to building new towers and, moreover, the construction, zoning and permitting process can be time-consuming. However, 5G technology is uniquely suited to deployment on existing building rooftops because of the reduced antenna heights for the next-generation wireless network. Now, major institutional commercial real estate owners are better positioned than tower operators for carriers to achieve a faster, more efficient solution for their wireless real estate requirements.
A rooftop deployment strategy presents a solution that is mutually beneficial to the 5G carrier and the property owner. Carriers achieve their objective of deploying their infrastructure as quickly as possible in heavily trafficked areas, while property owners reap the financial benefits of leasing their rooftops and monetizing their existing buildings in new ways.
The impact on the net operating income for real estate owners and the revenue generated over the terms of a potentially 30-year lease can be substantial, increasing their access to capital. In addition to collecting payments in return for leasing its rooftop to the carrier, landlords are also able to provide better services to tenants with high-speed broadband connectivity.
What’s at stake in the 5G deployment race
The deployment of 5G infrastructure is critically important for the United States to keep pace and remain competitive internationally. Certainly, 5G is about faster connectivity, increased capacity and zero latency, but it’s mostly about driving innovation that will enable a range of business services from autonomous vehicles and expansion of telehealth to efficiencies in manufacturing and agriculture and improved supply chain management.
The Biden administration has also identified 5G technology and universal broadband as an economic equalizer for rural America. According to policy statements, rural Americans are over 10 times more likely to lack access to reliable internet compared to urban residents.
In the recently signed infrastructure law, the president and Congress prioritized investments in rural broadband infrastructure to bridge that digital divide, expanding internet access to these underserved areas. Because of this emphasis, landlords with properties in rural areas could stand to benefit more from the expansion of 5G infrastructure.
The path to establishing a strong 5G network across the United States will be a long one. While it need not be a deterrent, property owners partnering with 5G providers and wireless carriers should also be informed and cognizant of the cybersecurity considerations of the technology as they house the infrastructure and offer the wireless network to their tenants.
In a recent Aon survey of more than 2,300 risk managers and other executives, cyber risk was listed as the No. 1 current and predicted future risk globally. Increased connectivity and 5G are the future, which means the cybersecurity industry must continue to innovate and expand its use of machine learning and artificial intelligence to enhance defenses.
We’ve also seen the creation of organizations such as Building Cyber Security to help provide guidance and a framework to improve cybersecurity resiliency in the real estate sector.
For property owners to effectively monetize their rooftops and participate in the race to 5G, government and private industry must continue to work collaboratively on an expeditious deployment of 5G infrastructure, including timely review of 5G installation requests.
Additionally, more work is necessary at the state and local levels to improve the zoning and permitting process for the deployment of 5G antennas. Numerous state legislatures are already considering legislation to better address and develop a 5G strategy for their constituencies, which would also provide new opportunities for landlords.
There is more policy and technical work to be done to fuel the race to 5G, but the revenue opportunity for property owners is immediate and tangible. For restaurateurs or hoteliers rebounding from the economic slowdown of the COVID-19 pandemic, monetizing their rooftops could be the difference between shuttering their storefronts and turning a profit.
Honda and Verizon are researching how 5G and mobile edge computing might improve safety for today’s connected vehicles and the future’s autonomous ones.
The two companies, which announced the partnership Thursday, are piloting different safety scenarios at the University of Michigan’s Mcity, a test bed for connected and autonomous vehicles. The aim of the venture is to study how 5G connectivity coupled with edge computing could allow for faster communication between cars, pedestrians and infrastructure. The upshot: faster communication could allow cars to avoid collisions and hazards and find safer routes. [TechCrunch is owned by Verizon Media, which is itself owned by Verizon]
The 5G testing is in its preliminary research phase and Honda doesn’t intend to implement this new technology as a product feature just yet. The companies do have plans to test 5G-enabled vehicles on public roads in at least four cities this year, according to Brian Peebles, Verizon’s senior manager of technology development and one of the leads on the project.
This partnership builds off of Honda’s onboard SAFE SWARM AI technology, which the automaker began developing in 2017. That technology uses Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything, or C-V2X communication, which does what the name implies and lets vehicles communicate with other road users.
We’ve seen similar tech before with Dedicated Short Range Communications which requires cell towers to communicate between vehicles. V2X and 5G have the advantage of being able to communicate device-to-device, not to mention endorsement by the FCC.
“Traditionally, with V2X, the cars talk to each other,” Dr. Ehsan Moradi Pari, research group lead at Honda’s advanced technology research division told TechCrunch. “They provide their information, like their location, speed and other sensor information, and the car does a threat assessment, like whether I’m going to collide with another car. What this [5G and MEC] technology offers is that we all provide our information to the network, and the network tells me if there is a potential for an accident or not.”
Honda and Verizon’s premise is that the technology can handle communication far faster than a car’s computer. Instead of relying on a car’s less capable computer to do the work, information generated from connected cars, people and infrastructure is sent up into the 5G network. The computations are then done at the edge of network (meaning not in the cloud) in real time.
The payoff: a car relying on sensors and software might be able to understand a driver is about to hit something and hit the breaks, but the MEC can almost see into the future by checking out and communicating what’s happening farther down the road.
The speed of the communication is what stands out, according to Peebles, who noted that the round trip latency testing performed on Verizon’s 5G network to its MEC came back in under 50 milliseconds.
One of the safety scenarios that Verizon and Honda tested was a red light runner. Using data from smart cameras, MEC and V2X software they were able to detect the vehicle running a red light and send a visual warning message to other vehicles approaching the intersection. They tested similar scenarios to warn drivers or vehicles about a pedestrian obscured by a building and an oncoming emergency vehicle whose sirens are drowned out by the car’s loud music.
“Ensuring real-time communication among all road users will play a critical role in an automated driving environment,” said Pari. “Through these connected safety technologies, we can develop vehicle systems that detect potential dangerous situations in real time to warn the driver or automated system.”
While this initial research stage involves making human-driven vehicles safer, the Honda-Verizon partnership might eventually lay the groundwork for the use of 5G in future autonomous vehicles. If testing proves out, connected vehicles would be safer and could lead to a more efficient network that smooths out traffic congestion and reduces air pollution.
“We’re primarily doing this to promote vehicle safety and human safety,” Peebles told TechCrunch. “There are over 42,000 people a year in the United States alone that are killed in automobile accidents, and another two million are injured. Technology is becoming more crucial as we undergo an evolution of human drivers, so as that transition happens, we need to do it in a safe and orchestrated manner, such that everything is working together.”
Autonomous vehicles being tested on public roads today don’t require 5G or edge computing. While autonomous vehicle companies are eyeing what might be possible with 5G, the vehicles they’re developing are based on present-day technology.
There are headwinds to this 5G-MEC combination. This level of interconnectivity only works if there are sensors on every highway and every intersection. Many 5G-enabled vehicles and devices will be able to communicate with one another, but they can only communicate with pedestrians or infrastructure if smart cameras are clocking them and sharing that info with the network. And sensors are not perfect.
That would require a huge infrastructure investment as well as public acceptance and cooperation with states, cities and localities to install all of the necessary sensors. However, one might look to China as a use case. The country has a national policy to move rapidly over to a 5G network, and many Chinese autonomous driving companies are finding this type of connectivity and computational power essential to development.
Apple and Verizon today announced a new partnership that will make it easier for their business partners to go all-in on 5G. Fleet Swap, as the program is called, allows businesses to trade in their entire fleet of smartphones — no matter whether they are currently a Verizon customer or not — and move to the iPhone 12 with no upfront cost and either zero cost (for the iPhone 12 mini) or a low monthly cost.
(Disclaimer: Verizon is TechCrunch’s corporate parent. The company has zero input into our editorial decisions.)
In addition, Verizon also today announced its first two major indoor 5G ultra wideband services for its enterprise customers. General Motors and Honeywell are the first customers here, with General Motors enabling the technology at its Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Center, the company’s all-electric vehicle plant. To some degree, this goes to show how carriers are positioning 5G ultra wideband as more of an enterprise feature than the lower-bandwidth versions of 5G.
“I think about how 5G [ultra wide band] is really filling a need for capacity and for capability. It’s built for industrial commercial use cases. It’s built on millimeter wave spectrum and it’s really built for enterprise,” Verizon Business CEO Tami Erwin told me.
It’s important to note that these two projects are not private 5G networks. Verizon is also in that business and plans to launch those more broadly in the future.
“No matter where you are on your digital transformation journey, the ability to put the power of 5G Ultra Wideband in all of your employees’ hands right now with a powerful iPhone 12 model, the best smartphone for business, is not just an investment for growth, it’s what will set a business’s future trajectory as technology continues to advance,” Erwin said in today’s announcement.
As for 5G Fleet Swap, the idea here is obviously to get more businesses on Verizon’s 5G network and, for Apple, to quickly get more iPhone 12s into the enterprise. Apple clearly believes that 5G can provide some benefits to enterprises — and maybe more so than to consumers — thanks to its low latency for AR applications, for example.
“The iPhone 12 lineup is the best for business, with an all-new design, advanced 5G experience, industry-leading security and A14 Bionic, the fastest chip ever in a smartphone,” said Susan Prescott, Apple’s vice president of Markets, Apps and Services. “Paired with Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband going indoors and 5G Fleet Swap, an all-new device offer for enterprise, it’s now easier than ever for businesses to build transformational mobile apps that take advantage of the powerful iPhone 12 lineup and 5G.”
In addition, the company is highlighting the iPhone’s secure enclave as a major security benefit for enterprises. And while other handset manufacturers launch devices that are specifically meant to be rugged, Apple argues that its devices are already rugged enough by design and that there’s a big third-party ecosystem to ruggedize its devices.
Huawei is facing an uphill challenge in the overseas market as its upcoming devices lack the full set of Google apps and services. That leaves ample room for its Chinese rivals to chase after foreign consumers.
That includes Oppo, the sister brand of Vivo under Dongguan-based electronics holding company BBK. In an announcement on Monday, the Chinese firm announced a partnership with Vodafone to bring its smartphones to the mobile carrier’s European markets. The deal kicks off in May and will sell Oppo’s portfolio of advanced 5G handsets as well as value-for-money models into the U.K, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Romania and Turkey.
While Vodafone pulled Huawei phones from its U.K. 5G network last year following the U.S. export ban that stripped Huawei models of certain Android services, the British operator can now tap Oppo’s wide range of mobile products in a heated race to sign up 5G customers. The partners will jointly explore online sales channels as many parts of Europe’s physical premises remain closed due to the COVID-19.
Oppo, currently the second-largest smartphone vendor in its home country after Huawei, has seen a spike in sales across Europe since entering the market in mid-2018. The company was one of the first to launch commercially available 5G phones in Europe last year and now ranks fifth on the continent.
“Oppo has a product range that can hit many of the same segments as Huawei, enabling it to gain market share at the expense of Huawei,” Peter Richardson, research director at Counterpoint Research, explained to TechCrunch. “Oppo has always used quite a European flavour in its product design. This extends to things like colour choice, packaging, and advertising materials. This makes it acceptable to European consumers.”
Interestingly, Richardson pointed out that Oppo, which has a less “Chinese sounding” name than its domestic rivals Xiaomi and Huawei, will help it circumvent some of the “negative media surrounding China just now – first Huawei’s difficulties around security threats and more recently the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Global satellite operator Intelsat has voluntarily filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, the company announced late on Wednesday. Intelsat has attempted to position this as a positive moment that sees it embark on a “financial restructuring” project to enable its future growth, but a bankruptcy filing is seldom cause for celebration.
The company cites a need to participate in the FCC’s C-band spectrum clearing for 5G network build out in the U.S. as one of the factors behind its decisions to file, as well as “managing the economic slowdown impacting several of its markets caused by the COVID-19 global health crisis.”
Intelsat notes that its current plan involves no changes to the day-to-day operation of the company, or any reduction in headcount. The company also said that it has secured $1 billion in committed new financing, which will come in the form of debtor-in-position funds, subject to court approval. That just describes any company that plans to continue to operate its business while also undergoing Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings.
The company also says it’ll be continuing to launch new satellites, building out its ground network, and adding new services as it goes through the process, and that its goal is to to get through the restructuring “as quickly as possible.” The satellite operator cites GM and American Airlines as models that show its goal with the filing, having also undertaken a similar restructuring in the past and emerged with greater fiscal viability.
The UK government will allow Chinese tech giant Huawei to play a limited role in supplying the country’s 5G networks, it has been announced today.
The government said the package of restrictions being announced on “high risk” 5G vendors will allow it to “mitigate the potential risk posed by the supply chain and to combat the range of threats, whether cyber criminals, or state sponsored attacks”.
Commenting on the decision in a statement, digital secretary Baroness Morgan said: “The government has reviewed the supply chain for telecoms networks and concluded today it is necessary to have tight restrictions on the presence of high risk vendors.
“This is a UK-specific solution for UK-specific reasons and the decision deals with the challenges we face right now. It not only paves the way for secure and resilient networks, with our sovereignty over data protected, but it also builds on our strategy to develop a diversity of suppliers.”
The decision not to bar Huawei from upgrades to domestic networks signals a failure of U.S. diplomacy at the highest level.
In recent days American has been applying top-level pressure to its European ally — with secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, tweeting Sunday night that the country faced a “momentus” decision. “The truth is that only nations able to protect their data will be sovereign,” he wrote.
President Trump has also made his preference for US allies to ban Huawei amply clear in public.
While the decision by UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, not to bow to US pressure is likely to cause shockwaves of displeasure in Washington, the move had nonetheless looked likely for months.
Last summer a UK parliamentary committee concluded there was no technical reason for excluding Huawei — though it suggested “there may well be geopolitical or ethical grounds… to enact a ban on Huawei’s equipment”.
And while a report last March by a UK oversight body set up to evaluation the Chinese networking giant’s approach to security was withering in its assessment of its approach to security it did not call for an outright ban.
Then in April a leak from the National Security Council indicated that the prior Conservative administration was preparing to provide a level of access to Huawei.
Since then the government had said it was waiting for a Telecoms Supply Chain review to be completed. (A UK General Election also intervened, as well as the ongoing national preoccupation of Brexit.)
Today marks the conclusion of the review, and with it the announcement of new restrictions to manage 5G risks.
The government says vendors such as Huawei will be allowed a limited role in UK 5G networks — with exclusion from “sensitive ‘core'” parts of networks.
There will also be a 35 per cent cap on high risk vendor access to non-sensitive parts of the network (aka the access network, or periphery, where devices connect to mobile phone masts).
This cap will be kept under review — and could shrink further “as the market diversifies”, it suggested.
More generally, the government says it intends to work to support market diversification — saying it’s developing “an ambitious strategy” to further that goal.
“This will seek to attract established vendors who are not present in the UK, supporting the emergence of new, disruptive entrants to the supply chain, and promoting the adoption of open, interoperable standards that will reduce barriers to entry,” it adds.
A key issue related to the decision is that Huawei is the leading global vendor in 5G, with relatively few alternative providers — such as the European firms Ericsson and Nokia — none of whom are considered to offer a like-for-like option at this stage.
So a full ban on Huawei at this stage risks delays to rolling out national 5G networks which could hamper national competitiveness on an international stage.
“We want world-class connectivity as soon as possible but this must not be at the expense of our national security. High risk vendors never have been and never will be in our most sensitive networks,” Morgan also said in her statement, adding: “We can now move forward and seize the huge opportunities of 21st century technology.”
The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) will issue guidance to UK telecoms operators regarding the limits on high risk vendors — which also include that such providers should be:
Excluded from all safety related and safety critical networks in Critical National Infrastructure
Excluded from sensitive geographic locations, such as nuclear sites and military bases
Questions remain over how the ‘core’ of a 5G network is being defined; and even whether “sensitive” parts of the network can be isolated in 5G network topology, given the extensive role software plays across such next-gen networks.
But the government has ignored critical voices claiming there’s no way to securely isolate a 5G core — such as former Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, who has said there isn’t “a satisfactory mitigation of the risk” where 5G networks are concerned — and is spinning the restrictions as “the most stringent set of controls ever”.
It further claims they will “substantially improve the security and resilience of our critical telecoms networks” — and it’s doing so with the public blessing of the security services (which have previously signalled confidence that any risk associated with Huawei can be managed).
In a supporting statement today, Ciaran Martin, CEO of the NCSC — the public facing arm of GCHQ — said: “This package will ensure that the UK has a very strong, practical and technically sound framework for digital security in the years ahead.”
“High risk vendors have never been – and never will be – in our most sensitive networks,” he added. “Taken together these measures add up to a very strong framework for digital security.”
Martin said the agency has already issued advice to telcos “to help with the industry rollout of 5G and full fibre networks in line with the government’s objectives” — suggesting telcos are being encouraged to get on with rollouts and avoid any further delays by waiting for formal legislation.
The government says it will seek to legislate “at the earliest opportunity” to put in place the necessary powers for implementing the new telecoms security framework. But the signal to get on with 5G in the meanwhile looks clear.
Unsurprisingly Huawei has welcomed the decision.
In a statement, Huawei VP Victor Zhang said:
Huawei is reassured by the UK government’s confirmation that we can continue working with our customers to keep the 5G roll-out on track. This evidence-based decision will result in a more advanced, more secure and more cost-effective telecoms infrastructure that is fit for the future. It gives the UK access to world-leading technology and ensures a competitive market.
We have supplied cutting-edge technology to telecoms operators in the UK for more than 15 years. We will build on this strong track record, supporting our customers as they invest in their 5G networks, boosting economic growth and helping the UK continue to compete globally.
We agree a diverse vendor market and fair competition are essential for network reliability and innovation, as well as ensuring consumers have access to the best possible technology.
Heightened scrutiny of 5G implementation on European shores actually began back in March as member states wrestled with how to address American pressure to block Huawei from building out new telecommunications infrastructure on the continent.
The report from earlier in the week identified three security concerns that relate to the reliance on vendors linked to technology coming from individual suppliers — especially if that supplier represents a high degree of risk given its relationship to the government in its native country.
The new, private assessment reviewed by the WSJ is raising particular concerns about Huawei, according to the latest report.
“These vulnerabilities are not ones which can be remedied by making small technical changes, but are strategic and lasting in nature,” a source familiar with the discussions told the WSJ.
According to the WSJ report, concerns raised by the new EU analysis include: the insertion of concealed hardware, software or flaws into the 5G network; or the risk of uncontrolled software updates, backdoors or undocumented testing features left in the production version of the networking products.
As trade talks resume between the U.S. and China in an effort to end the ongoing trade war between the two countries, the hard-line stance that the U.S. government has taken on China’s telecommunications and networking technology powerhouse may be changing.
Now, with a preliminary trade deal apparently in place, the fate of Huawei’s 5G ambitions remain up in the air. Both the U.S. and the European Union have significant concerns, but China is likely to bring up Huawei’s ability to sell into foreign markets as part of any agreement.
U.S. security experts are conceding that China has won the race to develop and deploy the 5G telecommunications infrastructure seen as underpinning the next generation of technological advancement and warn that the country and its allies must develop a response — and quickly.
“The challenge we have in the development of the 5G network, at least in the early stage, is the dominance of the Huawei firm,” said TomRidge, the former US Secretary of Homeland Security and governor of Pennsylvania on a conference call organized recently by Global Cyber Policy Watch. “To embed that technology into a critical piece of infrastructure which is telecom is a huge national security risk.”
Already some $500 million is being allocated to the development of end-to-end encryption software and other technologies through the latest budget for the U.S. Department of Defense, but these officials warn that the money is too little and potentially too late, unless more drastic moves are made.
(You can also hear more about this at TechCrunch Disrupt in SF next week, where we’ll be interviewing startup founders and investors who build businesses by working with governments.)
The problems posed by China’s dominance in this critical component of new telecommunications technologies cut across public and private sector security concerns. They range from intellectual property theft to theft of state secrets and could curtail the ways the U.S. government shares critical intelligence information with its allies, along with opening up the U.S. to direct foreign espionage by the Chinese government, Ridge and other security experts warned.