A fragmented tech world would hurt Australia

A fragmented tech world would hurt Australia

The Internet has played a crucial role in bringing the world together but the latest attacks on Huawei made by the US Federal Government present a significant threat to the way in which the world communicates – and that’s potentially very bad news for Australia.

Right now wherever you are in the world you can take your 4G mobile phone anywhere you like from Addis Ababa to Adelaide or from Zanzibar to Zurich and it will allow you to access your digital services, communicate with anyone or do whatever you want on the Internet.

Those unified and harmonized standards are critical for a nation like Australia whose people love to travel overseas and, more importantly, a nation which relies extremely heavily on both attracting foreign tourists and students – both of which are critical for our economy.

When Aussies business travelers go overseas they want and expect their expensive smartphone to work so they can use it as a critical work tool to enable productivity.

Our leisure travelers want their phone to stay in touch with home and, of course, regularly update their social media to show everyone what a great time they are having.

It’s the same when foreign business people, visitors or students come to Australia – they want to turn on their device and have it work straightaway just like they can at home.

Bringing the whole world together onto a single unified system of 4G technology took years of hard work to get away from the past years of frustration where your phone simply would not work in certain countries.

Without drowning in the detail in the 1990s and 2000s in the 2G/3G era if an Australian visited the US, Japan, China or South Korea – to name just a few – then their Australian phone simply would not work because it was using a different technology and the same would be the case for visitors from those countries to Australia.

We absolutely do not want to go back to those days but the latest actions by the US Federal Government in trying to block off Huawei from key technology puts us in grave danger of going down that pathway of having incompatible mobile technologies from China and the US in the future.

Even before this latest development the highly respected UK telco analyst Dean Bubley was already warning that there was a growing risk of a return to competing mobile technology standards between the US and China.

Bubley, who performs consultancy work for some of the world’s biggest telecoms and technology companies, argues in his new Blog:  

“I think that geopolitics may undermine the ‘single global standard’ for mobile, along with some conveniently-timed technical evolution paths,” Bubley writes.

“I think the US might be about to diverge from the last decade’s consensus, the Sino-US politics were already stark, even before the COVID19 pandemic added more fuel to the fire.

“We have already seen massive pressure with regard to Huawei, not just in North America but across Europe and other OECD countries such as Japan and Australia.

“The US tech industry is now being pushed/advised to avoid working with China, even on standards development….that potentially weakens US influence at 3GPP, and could prompt it to seek alternative paths forward.”

Now, to be clear, this is not the pathway that Huawei wants, in the past 30-plus years, Huawei has been playing a big role in setting standards, deployed over 1,500 networks in more than 170 countries and regions, serving over 3 billion people worldwide and we also provide smart devices to 600 million consumers.

It is our firm view that fragmented standards and supply chains benefit no one and only cause pain for consumers and industries in the form of higher prices and lack of device availability.

In particular, for a country like Australia located in the Asia Pacific region and seeking to be a bridge between its own region and the US and Europe a return to the bad old days of competing mobile technology standards would be extremely negative.

At some point Australia would have to make a choice on which pathway to go down from a technology perspective, do they take the Chinese path used by our biggest trading partner and the one likely used across its own region or take the US pathway?

Modern consumers and industries place huge value on being able to use their mobile devices while roaming in the world for both business and personal usage.

In addition, we will also likely see a substantial increase in the price of network equipment, devices and connectivity services because having globally agreed standards created huge economies of scale that enabled many players to bring innovative products and services to market at much lower prices.

It’s not just about networks and phones either, the 5G era will bring an explosion in the number of devices that are connected to the Internet as part of the Internet of Things – from cars to robots and everything in between but this whole new world will be significantly compromised if we have competing standards because user equipment will not be universally usable.

The world – and Australia in particular as a remote country that must have the best possible links to the outside world – has benefitted hugely from the global standards we enjoy today – but recent events place those standards in greater jeopardy than ever before and we should do whatever we can to protect them.

Dr. David Soldani is Chief Technology Officer at Huawei Australia

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