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From Huawei to the Internet of Things: A Short Story About 5G and Canadian Security Risk



In recent months, Canada’s plan to create a 5G network, which may appear around 2020, has become particularly relevant after the arrest by Canadian authorities of a high-ranking head of Chinese Huawei Technologies. Ottawa is currently under increasing pressure to prevent Huawei from developing its 5G technology in Canada, as experts warn it will pose a threat to national security.

But what is a 5G network? And why security problems? Here we will give you a (very) brief explanation of what 5G is and why it is important:

What is 5G?

Fifth-generation networks, or 5G, are essentially a faster and more reliable version of wireless communication. They come after four generations of past improvements. 2G brought us text messages, and 4G introduced streaming video and other features that gave us access to many new mobile services, such as Uber and Spotify.

5G marks a huge leap forward in such wireless technology. Unlike earlier networks, which, in fact, connected devices through one-way interactions, 5G would have countless connection points, creating something that could be viewed as a grid pattern, or what experts call a "network of networks."

If you use all your potential, the technology will collect data from virtually any device – from mobile phones to autonomous cars and home appliances (for example, an intelligent device that catalogs and organizes the products stored in your refrigerator). It will also be much faster. Users will be able to download a two-hour movie in less than four seconds, compared with today’s about six minutes (or 26 hours using 3G technology).

How it works?

Such a device connection, also called the Internet of Things (IoT), will require the transfer of huge amounts of data. Current installations simply cannot cope with such a rapid build-up.

“The bottom line is that this drive, this push to get additional data, will require huge bandwidth,” said Glenn McDougall of Doyletech Corp.

Data in the 5G network will be transmitted through equipment such as satellites, antennas and sensors, as well as advanced software. Most of this data will come from ultra-small satellites, which companies are launching more frequently and at much lower cost.

The American company Planet Labs is currently launching into orbit up to 300 small satellites capable of daily shooting the entire land of the Earth (satellites weigh 12 pounds and no more than a breadbasket, unlike clumsy satellites that launched space agencies of a small car size or more ).

Who are the players?

Telus and BCE, or Bell Canada, are collaborating to create 5G technology with Huawei. Their Canadian rival Rogers works together with the Swedish telecommunications operator Ericsson, Huawei's main competitor.

Nokia, Samsung, and Chinese ZTE are other major 5G developers. Last week, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, Navdip Baines, announced the allocation of $ 40 million to finance the new company Nokia, which operates in Canada.

The 5G modem chipset is displayed after the Huawei presentation in Beijing on January 24, 2019.

Andy Wong / AP

Why security risk?

Ottawa is currently considering a Huawei 5G technology application in Canada. Security experts warn that the Chinese government may use Huawei to intercept confidential data. This statement is largely due to concerns that Chinese companies, especially state-owned enterprises, will be forced to act on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party, if they are asked to do so. A similar argument was made against the proposed takeover by Canadian construction company Aecon last year, $ 1.5 billion by the Chinese conglomerate, which was eventually blocked by Ottawa.

Experts say that a huge number of connections and the integrated nature of 5G networks provide hackers with much more opportunities to log in through the so-called “black doors”. And the risks are much higher: data leakage in an overgrown 5G network will create a data pool that is much deeper than in modern networks.

New Cold War?

Experts warn that 5G disagreements are only the beginning of a larger-scale technological struggle between the United States and China, which some people call the “New Cold War”. After many years of closer cooperation between governments and companies creating technologies such as 5G, security problems and other geopolitical problems are beginning to undermine this progress.

In particular, the protracted trade war between the US and China and the threat from US President Donald Trump to ban certain Chinese technology companies in the US supply chain may further divide the global technological arena. Without change, this can lead to a world in which technical progress between countries will be much less uniform and integrated.


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