ASPI: The definition of Chutzpah
Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull once famously argued with Kevin Rudd over the correct pronunciation of the Yiddish word ‘Chutzpah’ – I am not sure who won but I know that when it comes to displaying Chutzpah the undisputed champion has to be the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI).
ASPI has published a Blog called ‘Australia needs to take the lead on 5G again’ – conveniently forgetting to mention that Australia would by now be a clear global leader in 5G had ASPI not played a key role in a United States Government led campaign to have Huawei banned from 5G in Australia.
That 5G ban in August 2018 delayed proper 5G deployment in Australia by at least two years with the operators in line to use Huawei 5G technology, Optus, Vodafone and TPG all forced to ditch their well-crafted 5G deployment plans and scramble to replace their key vendor.
In the case of TPG the 5G ban on Huawei forced them to cancel their planned urban rollout of 5G delivering ultra-fast Fixed Wireless technologies that would have provided much needed competition against services delivered over the National Broadband Network (NBN).
Had Huawei been allowed to proceed with delivering 5G there is simply no doubt that TPG and Optus would have been among the most advanced 5G operators in the world and forced other Australian operators to keep pace with them – with consumers the key beneficiary.
Instead, here we are two years after the 5G ban was imposed and there is more chance of getting hit by a flying Sherrin coming out of the Gabba on AFL Grand Final day than there is of finding a 5G signal in the vast majority of the country.
What’s more Telstra have already increased 5G prices by up to $15 per month for consumers too and – as reported by industry bible Commsday – have told the Federal Government that they won’t be able to deliver nationwide 5G coverage unless they receive government funding.
As the great Upton Sinclair once commented, “It is very difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon him not understanding it,” and so it is with ASPI and their spurious claims about “resolving all our 5G vendor risk problems.”
Once again ASPI resolutely refuses to address the elephant in the room regarding 5G, that whilst Huawei was banned for being Chinese every single piece of 5G kit being deployed on the Telstra and Optus networks is being made in China by other Chinese companies.
Moreover, the US Department of Defence has even identified Telstra’s 5G supplier Ericsson’s joint-venture partner Panda Electronics as being associated with the People’s Liberation Army – an inconvenient truth for ASPI to be sure and one which they determinedly refuse to even acknowledge.
The answer to this is simple, why not test everyone’s 5G kit before it is deployed on networks to make sure it is safe and secure? After all both Nokia and Ericsson enthusiastically support such a scheme in the European Union – as does Huawei – so why don’t they support it here?
Now then, given that ASPI has received huge amounts of funding from the US State Department it should come as little surprise that ASPI says that the answer to Australia’s now limited choice of mobile technology vendors is to embrace the new vendors delivering Open Radio Access Network (ORAN) technology.
Well, given ASPI’s track record of rewarding their backers with public endorsements it should come as no surprise that the vendors delivering ORAN just happen to be American.
Indeed, so enamored is the US State Department – a reminder, one of ASPI’s major financial backers – by ORAN technology that it has been widely reported that the State Department will actually invest US taxpayers money into the ORAN companies to better help them compete in the global market.
That’s right, ASPI are suggesting that Australia allows companies that are likely to take funding direct from the State Department – home of America’s intelligence agencies – to play a major role in delivering 5G in Australia.
ASPI is arguing for Australia to adopt ORAN technology that is completely unproven on a technical or commercial level and that has yet to demonstrate – unlike the technology delivered by established vendors – that it can deliver services in a secure manner.
Indeed, Patrick Donegan, founder of UK based Cyber-Security researcher HardenStance wrote today that, “If ORAN is deployed at scale it won’t be for years…any slightly successful ORAN start-ups will be eaten [by bigger vendors].”
Even Ericsson itself has expressed serious concerns about ORAN security with the Swedish vendor releasing a report recently that claimed that ORAN had yet to address many of the serious security concerns it faced as it looked to rapidly disrupt the market.
“Secure Open RAN systems may require additional security measures not yet fully addressed, a trusted stack for software and hardware, and interoperability between vendors with a common understanding and implementation of security requirements,” the report said.
We know that ASPI has a natural disinclination to all things Chinese but if it wants to see what an advanced 5G market looks like then perhaps, when circumstances allow, it should use some of its millions of dollars in government and corporate funding to visit Shenzhen.
The city of Shenzhen – home to some 13 million people – is already fully covered by 5G with tens of thousands of 5G base stations already deployed through the city.
As everyone in the industry knows 5G is only useful if it has ubiquitous coverage – you can’t have self-driving cars without every inch of the road network being covered – so Shenzhen is now focusing on building out those next-generation applications that will drive increased productivity across its economy.
If ASPI and its backers in the US Government had not derailed Australia back in August 2018 then Australia would be in that position now with the ability to be leading the world in smart farming and next-generation mining technology – but the opportunity has been lost forever.
Jeremy Mitchell is Chief Corporate Affairs Officer at Huawei Australia.