The 5G war and the fight against Huawei

Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain and now the United States … The list of countries that limit the use of Huawei equipment for the implementation of the long-awaited 5G network is growing. Canada is juggling the idea of ​​following suit with its allies, who are citing reasons of national security. Should Canadian companies delay the deployment of this new ultra-fast telecommunications network?

Rogers, Telus and Bell – Canada’s top three telecommunications players – are already working on the deployment of the 5G network. The latter will offer a speed at least 20 times faster than that of 4G, which currently serves most of the West.

This rapidity bodes a small revolution, that of the Internet of Things. Unlike 4G, which is currently saturated, this new network will be able to withstand the deluge of data generated by our watches, refrigerators, autonomous cars and other gadgets designed to make our cities and homes smart.

Such a revolution, however, requires significant infrastructure changes; new antennas, new routers, processors, phones, etc. And, right now, Huawei is far ahead in the race for 5G equipment. However, the Chinese giant is the object of growing mistrust in the West.

Critical infrastructure

For José Fernandez, professor and researcher in cybersecurity at the École polytechnique and associate researcher at the Raoul-Dandurand Chair, the threat posed by Huawei is twofold: that of the total dependence of the West on Asia at the manufacturing level, which makes it vulnerable to blackmail and cyber espionage.

“For historical reasons, almost all the electronics that are being consumed right now come from East Asia. There is a problem. There is a possibility of being held hostage by the manufacturers of this equipment, “explains the professor. Especially since, in this case, the manufacturer in question is closely associated with “an undemocratic government that has expansion objectives”.

In this context, we want to minimize the possibility that electronic equipment will be used for cyber espionage. However, “the Chinese government is not hiding its intentions to use all means necessary to achieve its objectives […]. That’s the danger.

My car is not going to go into a tree because I put Saudi oil instead of good oil from Alberta. […] In electronics, it is not at all the same thing. It has been shown in the past that it is possible to poison equipment.

José Fernandez, professor and researcher in cybersecurity at École Polytechnique
Backdoors could intercept and transmit to anyone who wants to intercept all the information that circulates through the 5G network, says the researcher, “so the potential for espionage and surveillance is huge.”

“You have to see 5G as a critical infrastructure,” warns the cybersecurity researcher.

decisions have consequences

Huawei is not the only company that can build the 5G network. Swedish Ericsson, Finnish Nokia and American Cisco, for example, are also in the running. But the Chinese company is far ahead. Since 2012, Huawei has been the world’s largest supplier of telecommunications equipment, enabling it to offer lower prices.

“Most Canadian telecommunications operators, but especially Telus, depend on Huawei’s 5G technology,” said Reza Hagel, chief executive officer of FOCUS, a telecommunications procurement consultancy.

A dependency that entails risks, according to the consultant, which speaks of the possibility of “significant financial damage related to a change of equipment” and “delays in the deployment of 5G value-added services” in the event of ‘a ban on Huawei. Some delays could extend to 24 months, according to him.

In its financial results for the end of 2018, published last February, Telus admitted that a Canadian government directive against Huawei’s equipment would have the potential to delay its plan to deploy the 5G technology.

On the side of Bell Canada and Rogers, the companies rather affirmed that such a directive would have no impact on the deployment of the network. At Bell as at Rogers, Huawei’s equipment is considered, but only for non-essential elements, on the periphery of the network.

Most mobile operators have a multi-vendor supply strategy and a network environment that allows them to reduce some of the risks.

Reza Hagel, Managing Director of FOCUS, a telecommunications procurement consulting firm

He believes, however, that a ban by the federal government could “create a potential backlog for all Canadian business ecosystems that seek to harness 5G technology to create value and innovate with new applications and products or services” .

In Canada, we expect the first smart phones that can support the technology by the end of the year, then the 5G network should take off by no later than 2021. Some small isolated networks are currently available in different major cities. country, but these are test phases that have nothing to do with the large-scale network that will emerge.

It is possible that a ban on Huawei in Canada causes delays in the deployment of the 5G network, also recognizes Professor José Fernandez. “But it’s not necessarily a bad thing,” he says.

“Can anyone prove to me that we need 5G to grow our economy? There are advantages to looking for it, but I have not seen solid studies say that if we do not have 5G, we will stay behind, “said Fernandez.

As a cybersecurity researcher, I would say that 5G for me is more of a concern than a blessing.

José Fernandez, professor and researcher in cybersecurity at École Polytechnique
Canada under pressure
Federal Public Safety Mi

nister Ralph Goodale has announced that he will make a decision on Huawei ahead of the federal election scheduled for the fall. The government is under pressure to follow suit with its allies who are also part of the Group of Five, an alliance of intelligence services linking it to Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Britain.

Each of these countries has adopted partial or whole restrictions on Huawei. “It would be very difficult from a geopolitical point of view for Canada, which exchanges a lot of electronic information, technologies and know-how with these allies, to go it alone,” says José Fernandez.

The researcher believes that the federal government is in danger of complying with the wishes of its allies, despite lobbying for Huawei because of the competitive price of its equipment. Canada does not have much choice, he says. Whether this causes delays or not, Mr. Fernandez believes anyway that the establishment of such a sensitive network should not be done in a hurry in the name of short-term economic imperatives.

“Would we say, let’s build the Champlain Bridge now, but in wood because we’re in a hurry, and we’ll see later if we do it in concrete or steel. No. I do not think we would do that in civil engineering, he says. So why would we do it in telecommunications engineering? “

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