By Jof Enriquez,
Follow me on Twitter @jofenriq
North American telecommunication operators will account for more than 336,000 5G connections worldwide — 46.7 percent of the global market share — by the end of 2019. Those are figures gleaned by research firm Ovum and presented by industry trade group 5G Americas.
The group notes that successful 5G rollouts in North America by all four major carriers will basically piggyback off existing and widespread 4G LTE connections, which represent 78.32 percent of all cellular connections worldwide. It is projected that North America will have 186 million 5G connections by 2023, representing 32 percent of the total 1.3 billion connections worldwide, reported SDX Central.
However, Huawei – the largest 5G equipment maker in the world and current partner to many operators rolling out 5G worldwide — may never be able to fully tap into the largest 5G market. Reuters reports that U.S. President Donald Trump is considering an executive order, issued as early as January, prohibiting U.S. companies and operators from using equipment made by Huawei and ZTE.
The order reportedly will invoke the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which gives the President authority to regulate commerce in response to a national emergency that threatens the United States. President Trump signed a bill in August that prevents U.S. agencies from using Huawei and ZTE gear, citing national security concerns that the Chinese companies allegedly are spying at the behest of the Chinese government.
According to Reuters, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai back in March warned that “hidden ‘back doors’ to our networks in routers, switches — and virtually any other type of telecommunications equipment – can provide an avenue for hostile governments to inject viruses, launch denial-of-service attacks, steal data, and more.”
An executive order effectively banning the company from operating in the U.S. will hit small rural carriers particularly hard. The Rural Wireless Association (RWA) estimates that 25 percent of its members currently use Huawei or ZTE equipment in their networks, and it will cost $800 million to $1 billion to replace them, reports Reuters.
Australia, New Zealand, and Japan have made similar decisions to ban Huawei and ZTE equipment.
Frances Adamson, Australia's top diplomat, told Nikkei that "5G technologies present considerable opportunities for... a new wave of innovation" and that "the decision to [issue security guidance on 5G to Australian carriers] was made after careful, objective and extensive review of national security risk."
"I want to make clear also that we discussed the decision on 5G with the authorities in China," Adamson added. "We confirmed with them that our telecommunications security framework is based on objective criteria. It doesn't target any particular country."
Meanwhile, the United Kingdom's defense minister, Gavin Williamson, was more vocal and specific about Huawei, and said his country will have to make a decision soon.
"I have grave, very deep concerns about Huawei providing the 5G network in Britain. It's something we'd have to look at very closely," said Williamson, according to CNBC. "We've got to look at what partners such as Australia and the U.S. are doing in order to ensure that they have the maximum security of that 5G network and we've got to recognize the fact, as has been recently exposed, that the Chinese state does sometimes act in a malign way."
In response, Huawei told CNBC via email: "Cybersecurity is Huawei's number one priority, and an area in which we are investing heavily. We fully agree with the need to ensure the security and integrity of national networks. As a responsible company and a significant investor in the UK, we welcome dialogue with the British government and with the rest of the industry, as long as it is based on facts and on demonstrable evidence."
With higher bandwidth and faster speeds connecting an unprecedented number of devices and objects in the Internet of Things ecosystem, 5G could amplify existing cybersecurity threats, according to one analyst.
“5G may become a technology that enables larger and more destructive attacks,” Rod Soto, director of security research for Jask, told Security Intelligence. “It will have to deal with the current vulnerabilities and flaws we see on the internet infrastructure, as well. It is important that 5G does not become an attack enhancer — think of bigger botnets, faster exfiltration of data and privacy violation.”
He added: “Current and new home technologies will reach deep into what we say, what we eat, what we do. 5G does not eliminate internet technology flaws, and, in my opinion, may enhance them.”
Soto said new standards still under development should address security issues that may arise during 5G implementation.
Ericsson has stated 5G technology is more secure, and has touted an inherent set of security features built into 5G networks: resilience, communication security, identity management, privacy and security assurance.
Nokia's VP of research and technology, Lauri Oksanen, told CNBC, "We are now connecting not just the people, but the whole world, and we don't want the infrastructure to fail because of some security issues," he said.
Ericsson and Nokia already have secured deals with U.S. operators deploying 5G, on account of having a sizable 4G footprint, and are expected to benefit from the ban on their biggest competitor on the provider side, Huawei.
"With Huawei banned from certain markets, we view Nokia as the only global supplier with an end-to-end solution, as evidenced by leading global carriers choosing Nokia as a partner for 5G deployments," stated analysts from Canaccord Genuity in a recent note, reports CNBC.
Nokia is pushing strong with 5G to continue its resurgence years after being toppled as the global market leader in the mobile communications market. The company's efforts also have helped put its home country, Finland, on the map in the worldwide race.
"They (Nokia) are trying to regain some technological leadership here in 5G that was largely lost in the last 15 years through the smartphone era," said Tim Hatt, head of research at GSMA Intelligence, in a phone interview with CNBC.
Finland will launch commercial 5G service in January, becoming one of the first countries in the world to do so, alongside the U.S. and China. Janne Koistinen, director of Telia's 5G program in Finland, told CNBC the operator is confident Finland will be among the first to 5G: "…in the agility, in the speed, in the finding new ways of how to utilize this technology, for sure we will."
The Finnish government awarded 5G licenses to Telia and two other operators through a spectrum auction in October.
Israel's spectrum auction, on the other hand, will be conducted in April or May 2019, in preparation for 5G rollouts sometime between 2020 and 2023, according to Channel News Asia. Six main mobile operators would be eligible to bid for 5G licenses, and some are expected to consolidate their bids to reduce costs. Israel's 5G network is estimated to cost around 2 billion shekels (US$529 million).
In other news, citizen advocacy group Wisconsin for Safe Technology UA is protesting the rollout of 5G in Greendale— part of the Milwaukee metropolitan area — reports the Journal Sentinel. The group cites health risks posed by microwave radiation emanating from small cells placed every two to 12 houses. Their concern arose when orange markers were placed by Verizon personnel near some homes and an elementary school. Verizon said the markers just show where underground 4G fiber optic cables are buried as the cables are upgraded, and are not indicative of where small cells will be placed.
The group of Greendale residents say they feel blindsided by Verizon's actions, and are considering changing the village's cellphone antenna ordinance to require carriers and contractors to inform the village of their plans and to let people within 500 feet know if cell antennas will be installed.