Event ReportsPublished on Aug 14, 2019
ORF organised an interaction on the extent and security risks of 5G spectrum technology and the role of Huawei as a provider of 5G technology and equipment. The discussion was led by Harold Furchtgott-Roth, chaired by Kanchan Gupta.
Interaction with Harold Furchtgott-Roth on China, 5G, and national security
The US government has for years seen Huawei as a threat to national security due to fears about its association with China's government, the Chinese Communist Party and its military. This has been of particular concern when it comes to networking gear and the possibility for breaches of data privacy. The US in August enacted the National Defence Authorisation Act to ban the government’s use of Huawei and ZTE technology products and services on concerns over their connections with the Chinese intelligence. ORF organised an interaction on the extent and security risks of 5G spectrum technology and the role of Huawei as a provider of 5G technology and equipment. The discussion was led by Dr. Harold Furchtgott-Roth Director, Centre for the Economics of the Internet and was moderated by Mr. Kanchan Gupta, Distinguished Fellow at ORF. The discussion began with Mr. Kanchan Gupta introducing the recent developments in the ongoing dispute between Huawei and the United States and EU. The dispute has major international consequences since Huawei is the largest provider of 5G software and hardware. He posed important questions about the impact of Chinese market dominance on the security of states, and opened the floor for Dr. Furchtgott-Roth’s remarks. Dr. Furchtgott-Roth introduced 5G technology from the perspective of the upcoming generation as being the need of the 21st century. He went on to talk about the evolution of India from the time of its independence emphasizing on the growth of the purchasing power of the populace and alleviation of poverty through technological advancements over the past 30 years. These have been substantial in providing access to electricity, clean water and healthcare thanks to wireless technology which facilitates faster exchange between citizens and the government. Further, he talked about the permeation of front-end technology such as smartphones, televisions and satellite access into all economic strata including the individuals who are included in the extreme poverty bracket. He then elaborated on the reasons for the success of wireless network in permeating society and attributed the same to competition between private equipment makers, wireless network providers and manufacturers in a global market without government interference along with the increased reliance on the internet as a facilitator of services. India has played a prominent role in the development of emerging technology as all major developers of next generation communication hardware and software have a research office in India. He continued to reiterate the freedom that wireless technology makers enjoy from all governments’ enabling an extremely competitive and dynamic environment which in turn tends to consumer friendly. He moved onto the status quo of the global markets and introduced how the global market of network equipment manufacturing is largely dominated by four countries- China, Sweden, Korea and Finland. He argued that no government intervention in the internet market has fostered growth and development, but the same cannot be held to be true for the 5G network space. The same is argued in light of how for the first time, a government (China) has made it a part of its strategic goals. The government has worked closely with the national industry to develop and facilitate sales of network equipment around the world. This becomes problematic as there is a high demand for Chinese manufactured goods in the American markets and government intervention in the sector can have tantamounting consumer repercussions. If the efforts of the Chinese government are to in anyway impact the competition in the market, we are all the poorer and the most harm will be seen on the lowest economic stratum of society who look to technological advancements as a means to growth. The second concern with regard to the 5G network is security. There are two challenges which surface, the first is the handling of personal data and its misuse (national security concerns), and the second being the dependence on such network adds additional risks of sabotage of basic services such as gas, electricity, water etc. These concerns exist in the current system too but 5G technology exasperates these concerns by increasing the amount if data which is being transmitted and an increase in the number of transceivers required for faster speeds making them more vulnerable to espionage attempts. Ancillary concerns which were pointed out by him were the increased risk to privacy and the problem of open source coding which is universally available to be used by hostile entities and shifts from telecom-based networking to networking chips present in all networking equipment and devices. All these may be manageable from a security perspective but they do create doubts as to the intent of a country (China) in sabotaging competition in a free market for network equipment along with security concerns in the equipment being manufactured by Huawei. The talk was concluded with Dr. Furchtgott-Roth’s remarks on the introduction of centralized planning in the network equipment manufacturing on the part of China and leaving the gathering with food for thought as to its effects on the global markets and economies. Further, he posed questions regarding what this means for the future of the next generation of networking and how such suspicion and hostility may pan out in their physical manifestations in global networking. The talk was followed by a fruitful Q&A session where important questions regarding the legality of putting sanctions on manufacturers (Huawei) and whether the global adaptation of such technology could lead to misuse of information on the part of a singular government (China) with an unpredictable nature were discussed before the same was summarized and wrapped up by Dr. Gupta.
This report was written by Shreepath Jain, Research Intern, ORF Delhi.
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