Consider this first:
International wrangling over standards for 5G technology is not only about improved speed or efficiency. Such standards also reflect the political struggles between the US and China — and, to a lesser degree, Europe — over how future technology is developed and deployed.
But the standards set for the next generation network — who decides them, and how far they apply — will be equally important for national security and individual safety, as well as the geopolitics of equipment deployment around the world.
There are no clear answers to it. Traditionally, the EU decides on the “standards” and markets them (through Nokia/ Ericcson), and this provides steady feedback/pipeline to the Universities that churn out engineers required to do it. It’s much like using the Microsoft Word. Even if you hate the interface, it has become the “standard” and remains the de-facto “choice”. There’s a new bully- China. It has spearheaded the “standards” through Huawei. I am not aware of how much the Chinese have stolen, copied, reverse engineered or created a few of their own. I am biased against any Chinese claims of “breakthrough”, partly because long-term financing sweetens their equipment (read: Chinese banks) and debt. I won’t dabble on these issues. However, no blog post can be without mentioning the bitter acrimony and shadow deals to ensure the installation of Chinese equipment in critical telecom infrastructure.
Highly connected smart cities are becoming more common. This prompts debates about the measures that should be taken to control the use of technologies such as facial recognition.
There are also questions over safety and security standards embedded into smart cities. A report released in 2020 and funded by the Australian government found that a data centre built by Huawei in Papua New Guinea had serious security vulnerabilities.By design or intent?
Local companies through innovative use of data-centres and private 5G networks will predominate.
Interestingly, there’s an update in today’s edition of The Diplomat. It came in earlier this morning, just as I was about to write this.
China is rapidly catching up and has understood the strategic value of technical standardization. It spreads its domestic specifications in international standardization organizations but also as part of infrastructure projects of the Belt and Road Initiative. Most worrisome is not only the ongoing power shift but that China is also questioning the privately driven approaches of the EU and the U.S. to standard-setting. In China, technical standardization is a domain steered by the party-state and so are China’s international activities.
The U.S. and the EU have quite different approaches to technical standardization. This makes cooperation difficult. However, if procedural issues can be put aside, both transatlantic partners could focus on countering the uneven playing field with China, strengthen the role of fundamental values, primarily human rights, in tech standardization, and strive to prevent the bifurcation of technical standards in strategic sectors. The latter is essential to prevent developing countries getting even more locked into Chinese tech.
EU determines its expansionist policies through “market-power,” and its prescriptions fall short of ideal. Their bureaucracy is riddled with red-tapism and lethargy in decision making. Their double speak is apparent on raising issues of “human rights” and then doing nothing about the ongoing persecution in China. Each country is unequally represented in the global sweepstakes of 5G. This is also apparent in their resistance to accept standards from “developing countries” – because they consider their “superior”. Chinese have gatecrashed the EU party and breaking it from within because of the EU’s own inherent contradictions.
This is an interesting space to watch.