By Jeremy Mitchell
Last week former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull travelled to London to share his wisdom with the British people, including some free advice on the potential deployment of Huawei’s 5G technology. He encouraged the Brits to follow his Government’s lead and ban Huawei from 5G.
Many myths are spun by the anti-Huawei brigade, but there is one that was swallowed hook, line and sinker by the Turnbull Government and proudly used as a reason to block Huawei from 5G (though they were not brave enough to publicly name Huawei, ZTE or China). The myth falsely suggests the edge or radio access layer of the network can’t be sufficiently secured in a 5G network. The motivation for this position is to give justification on why Huawei was allowed to become the largest 4G vendor in Australia (with over half of Australians using some sort of Huawei equipment for mobile broadband) but is now all of a sudden not allowed to deliver 5G? The US provided the perfect answer and this myth was born after the PM’s visit to the USA in February 2018. Problem is what they said (and Turnbull is now continuing to say) just isn’t true.
Unfortunately for Mr Turnbull it is now abundantly clear you can. It’s not just Huawei saying this, but also the other vendors who are developing 5G; the global standards body setting the rules of 5G (3GPP); and the operators delivering 5G globally. But most importantly, and more embarrassingly for Mr Turnbull, even the UK Government’s cyber security experts are also saying the edge of the network can be secured under 5G.
Mr Ian Levy, is a security expert who knows more about Huawei than most. As Technical Director of the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre, he and his team have been auditing, evaluating and testing Huawei equipment for the UK Government for more than 7 years. His recent blog entitled “Security, complexity and Huawei: protecting the UK’s telecom networks” is a straight forward, honest and welcome contribution to this important debate. He is very clear on securing the 5G environment:
“when you push core services closer to the edge, you can also push out the security services that support and protect them. This is the ‘mobile edge compute’ part of 5G. Now, in theory, you could push those services to the very edge of the network (that is, to each individual base station). That would be utterly crazy though, since it would be a massive pain to run the network, you couldn’t secure it properly and – more importantly – there’s no use case currently anticipated that would require it. In the UK, we currently reckon that we’ll push core services out maybe as far as large metropolitan areas.”
No wonder our former Prime Minister has decided to “speak at” rather than “listen to” the UK security experts, especially when they describe his policy justification on the Huawei 5G ban as “utterly crazy”.
Huawei doesn’t pretend to understand the workings of the global intelligence gathering agencies but we do know 5G. We know more about 5G networks than any agency would, or could. We were always willing (and still are) to share that knowledge and work with any Government to ensure the privacy and security of their citizens. Unfortunately, under Mr Turnbull’s watch this didn’t happen. He now boasts that Australia was the first (and still only) country to ban Huawei from 5G.
Mr Turnbull said:
“one of the final decisions of my Government was to ban telecommunications companies which could not meet our security requirements (such as Huawei and ZTE) from providing equipment to our new 5G phone networks, on national security grounds.”
So how exactly was Huawei supposed to meet the Government’s security requirements if it didn’t know what they were? How can we play by the rules if no rules are set or given? Huawei was playing the game blindfolded.
When he was Communications Minister and then Prime Minister, Huawei sought better engagement with the Government to allow a commonsense approach to an important policy area. The UK, Canada and New Zealand engaged with Huawei, they invested time and security resources to develop a deeper understanding of our company and products. Their security agencies visited Huawei HQ annually to see firsthand our internal processes, how we implemented our Cyber Security protocols and most importantly learn from the very people developing and inventing the latest technology. Allowing those countries to develop their own, independent understanding of Huawei.
The legacy of the Turnbull Huawei ban is quickly playing out. We are repeating the NBN mistakes that Turnbull tried to avoid by advocating for Huawei’s inclusion on NBN. Australia is ranked 60th in the world for fixed broadband data speeds, Australia’s NBN prices are high, homes are still waiting to be connected and billions of taxpayers’ money wasted. Moldova, Kosovo & Serbia get faster fixed broadband than Australia.
It’s a totally different story in mobile broadband where Australia ranks 6th in the world and consumers have enjoyed increasing internet speeds from 3G to 4G, cheaper services & packages, far more competition between the telcos to win over customers and more coverage in rural Australia (but we always need more). In fact, hundreds of thousands of Australians still get better speeds on their 4G phones than they do on their home NBN.
Now that Huawei is excluded from the Australian 5G mix, telco operators will be paying around 30% more for the second best technology. TPG have already cancelled their wireless network build because of the ban. This cost will hit Australians in three ways: we will be paying far more for wireless services, the ability for telcos to invest in rural Australia gets much harder and we will be the poor technology cousin of Asia (and the rest of the world), as our closest neighbor’s roll out far superior telecom services. We may be 6th in the world now but that’s about to slip.
But still Mr Turnbull boasted about his solo 5G ban;
“We were the first nation to do so. And we so decided not because another country told us to, let alone for protectionist reasons”
Given the US’s pressure on everyone else it is hard to imagine that the US didn’t play a role in Mr Turnbull’s ban. But what makes it worse is that unlike the UK, Canada & New Zealand, Australia has made such a decision without any attempt to get firsthand knowledge, experience or contact with the world’s clear leader in 5G.
It is also disappointing to see Mr Turnbull use the recent cyber-attack on Parliament House as a new justification for the Huawei ban.
“We saw in Australia only last month a cyber attack by a “state actor” on our parliamentary computer systems, reaffirming the need to be innovative and agile in dealing with the growing threat.”
For the record there is NO Huawei kit in Parliament House. In fact, it is mostly US equipment that the hackers have allegedly walked through. This highlights that removing one particular vendor doesn’t remove the threat. Same goes for 5G.
While Mr Turnbull might like to give the impression that the likes of GCHQ want to hear his advice on how to manage this policy area, the truth is very different. The UK has long had an open, transparent and two way approach to working with Huawei. His approach was a closed shop, and a total refusal to believe that his Government had anything to gain by fully engaging with Huawei.
Whatever policy the UK, Canada & NZ end up with on Huawei and 5G, at least their citizens will know that their Government has made an independent decision based upon their own firsthand knowledge and experience of all the facts. Something, unfortunately for Australia, Mr Turnbull cannot say his Government was willing and able to do.
Jeremy Mitchell is the Director of Corporate & Public Affairs for Huawei Australia, he was previously the Senior Media Relations Manager at Telstra and an Adviser in the Howard Government.
The views expressed in this Blog are the views of the Author and not necessarily of Huawei Australia.