Power to the People: Huawei 5G

Source: The Economist

In 2006, upon the arrival of the iPod, Steve Jobs once stated, “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” His statement impressed not only Apple’s  loyal customers, but the future engineers in the technology industry. Steve Jobs highlights the importance of understanding a product’s function, not just admiring its exterior appearance. The world has embraced the digital age, and with increased use of technology in the smartphone, automobile, healthcare, and other industries, everyone has become reliant on technology. Wireless Fidelity, commonly known as WiFi, has officially become a commodity. A new form of wireless connection recently entered the technology market, known as the 5G network. 

Steve Jobs revealing the first generation iPod

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

Steve Jobs

Huawei was founded in 1987 by Ren Zhengfi. . Huawei’s R&D team began its development of 5G in 2009, which was released a decade later. In 2013, they hired almost 300 experts from the wireless network industry and invested $600 million towards their 5G project. In 2016, Huawei created a 5G product line. In 2019, China released their 5G network from the company Huawei. Huawei is the second largest smartphone supplier, behind Samsung, and claimed nearly 19% of the worldwide market share. While this may seem like a remarkable achievement in technology, Huawei’s 5G network is actually banned in the U.S., U.K., Australia, and other countries. Why would a lucrative and innovative company’s 5G network and devices be banned?

Ren Zhengfi, CEO and Founder of Huawei
Huawei Headquarters in Shenzhen, China

Before we dive into the reason behind the Huawei 5G network ban, we need to understand the concept behind 5G. Fifth Generation Wireless, or 5G, is the most advanced wireless network. Before 5G, 4G LTE was the most popular wireless network. 4G LTE stands for 4th Generation Long Term Evolution. There are three core benefits that the 5G network offers compared to 4G LTE: speed, greater bandwidth, and lower latency. In terms of speed, 5G is almost 100x faster than 4G LTE. To put this into perspective, a person connected to 5G can download a full length movie in a matter of seconds. 5G has a greater bandwidth compared to 4G LTE. A greater bandwidth has higher frequency airwaves, which in turn contribute to the speed for this network. The higher frequency airwaves can carry more information on your device- including saved passwords, video streaming, emails, etc. Unfortunately, having a greater bandwidth prevents signals from crossing over to different places. If one was at home and then drove to a restaurant, the network signals would be disrupted. Fortunately, 5G wireless carriers are installing cell sites, which allow network signals to carry over from place to place. These cell sites are much smaller than 4G cell sites because a smaller cell site facilitates higher frequency airwaves. Lastly, 5G has a lower latency compared to 4G LTE. Lower latency refers to the decreased amount of lag time in a connection. There are times when your document won’t save, when Netflix movies buffer, etc. and these are all examples of lag time on a device. The 5G will alleviate the lag time that most people experience and will offer a faster connection.

Tech Specs: 5G Benefits (Source: DigitalTrends)
5G Cell Site (Source: Govtech)

Huawei 5G encompasses all of the amazing technological advancements in their wireless network; however, they have also managed to breach one of the most important human rights with their innovation- the right to privacy. The U.S. and the U.K. have taken action to ban the Huawei 5G network and its devices because it has been discovered that China is using that technology to spy on their users. From phones and laptops to cars and refrigerators, China can essentially tap in to anyone’s device and invade their privacy. In February of 2019, the U.S. urged the rest of the European countries to ban Huawei 5G at the Mobile World Congress Conference in Barcelona, Spain. Robert Strayer, a key U.S. diplomat for cybersecurity policy, stated, “The global nature of data flows and interconnectedness means that threats to U.S. networks have a direct bearing on the security of our allies, just as threats to our allies networks have a direct bearing on the security of the United States,” Strayer, along with the rest of the U.S. government officials recognize the power behind Huawei 5G and how China can easily use this technology to their advantage. At the conference, Strayer called Huawei “duplicitous and deceitful”  because Huawei has faced charges against intellectual property theft.

Mobile World Congress Conference 2019 (Source: PCWorld)
Robert L. Strayer: Deputy Assistant Secretary for Cyber and International Communications and Information Policy

Strayer made this claim because new evidence was brought to light indicating that China used Huawei technology to send prohibited U.S. software to Iran. This incident took place in 2010, and Huawei vehemently denied this accusation.  On January 28, 2019, the U.S. Department of Justice released a statement regarding the indictment against Huawei. The statement reads, “In 2017, when Huawei became aware of the government’s investigation, Huawei and its subsidiary Huawei USA allegedly tried to obstruct the investigation by making efforts to move witnesses with knowledge about Huawei’s Iran-based business to the PRC, and beyond the jurisdiction of the U.S. government, and by concealing and destroying evidence of Huawei’s Iran-based business that was located in the United States.”  In 2018, Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, daughter of the founder of Huawei. Wanzhou is guilty of violating trade sanctions by providing Skycom, Iran’s telecom carrier, with a variety of computer software and servers. In 2019, the U.S. Department of Justice updated their indictment with the following statement: “The defendants Huawei and Skycom are charged with bank fraud and conspiracy to commit bank fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and conspiracy to violate IEEPA, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.  Huawei and its subsidiary Huawei USA are charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice related to the grand jury investigation in the Eastern District of New York.  Meng is charged with bank fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracies to commit bank and wire fraud.” It is clear that Huawei is charged with wire fraud and bank fraud – highlighting the dangers of Huawei 5G.

Meng Wanzhou leaving the Supreme Court in British Columbia, Canada (Source: South China Morning Post)
Pg. 1 of Huawei et al Third Superseding Indictment (Source: U.S. Department of Justice)

“The defendants Huawei and Skycom are charged with bank fraud and conspiracy to commit bank fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and conspiracy to violate IEEPA, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.”

Huawei et al Third Superseding Indictment

Since this security breach and act of conspiracy, the U.S. has become more cautious when it comes to Huawei 5G network. The U.S. government is mainly suspicious of Huawei because of Ren’s military background.  Robert Strayer made an interesting remark in the Washington Post regarding Huawei 5G. He stated, “A country that uses data in the way China has – to surveil its citizens, to set up credit scores and to imprison more than 1 million people for their ethnic and religious background – should give us pause about the way that country might use data in the future.” In this statement, Strayer is referring to the imprisonment and religious persecution of Uighur Muslims in China and how the Huawei 5G Technology aids the Chinese Communist Party in identifying and tracking these individuals. Timothy Heath, the Senior Defense Analyst at RAND, revealed that there is a high chance that Huawei 5G technology can be used to spy and invade privacy rights of others. He remarked, “The Chinese state has the authority to demand tech companies like Huawei turn over useful information or provide access to the communications and technologies owned and sold by Huawei. Chinese authorities can use this information and access to facilitate espionage or cyber attacks over Huawei communications technologies. Consumer tech devices like phones that rely on Huawei technologies will be easier for Chinese authorities to penetrate and exploit for these reasons.”

Graphic depicts Huawei 5G used in surveillance cameras to monitor Uighur Muslims (Source: Foreign Policy)

“A country that uses data in the way China has – to surveil its citizens, to set up credit scores and to imprison more than 1 million people for their ethnic and religious background – should give us pause about the way that country might use data in the future.”

Robert Strayer

In order to ensure privacy and national security, the United States has banned the entire supply chain of Huawei. The U.S. government has also blocked chip producing companies that use U.S. technology from supplying to Huawei without a license. The U.S. Department of Commerce stated in May of 2019 that it will, “restrict Huawei’s ability to use” US technology and software to design and manufacture its semiconductors abroad. It said this would stem the Chinese company’s “efforts to undermine US export controls”. The Trump administration is continuing its efforts on banning the Huawei 5G network and devices as it has declared Huawei to be a national security threat. In May of 2019, Donald Trump signed an executive order banning Huawei 5G and its technologies until 2021. This executive order, titled “Executive Order on Securing the Information and Communications Technology and Services Supply Chain,” aims to tighten the regulation of technology and ensure privacy for the U.S. government and its citizens. The FBI, CIA, and NSA endorse Trump’s decision and have instructed American citizens not to purchase any Huawei technology. Following the U.S., the U.K. government banned Huawei technology in July of 2019. The U.S. government continues to remain against the use of Huawei 5G because Huawei has been accused of espionage, became a security threat, and formed connections with the Chinese government. Just like Steve Jobs said, “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” Americans need to be cautious and research their technology products before they purchase them. Huawei 5G may have impressive features and can improve many lives in the Digital Age, but it has many shortcomings, including breaching the right to privacy.