What Are We Really Hung Up About?

I have been reading about how Huawei is being considered for the next Telstra 5G rollout and other significant infrastructure rollouts.

There are some saying that they should be excluded because of national security issues. Others are saying we should exclude them because they’ve built their technology business by copying existing products, initially to sell into their domestic markets while foreign organisations were prohibited from participating. When these Chinese companies started to sell into international markets they started with countries that did not value or police intellectual property rights. In many cases the solutions were subsidised by the Chinese Government (or so I was told at the time). I was kind of embroiled in this when I tried to sell Australian made telecommunications products 15 -20 years ago into Asia. I saw this first hand and am still a little bitter about the experience.

It’s easy to get worried and caught up in these past issues rather than looking forward and analysing the situation clearly. Huawei and other Chinese manufacturers now R&D their own products and in my opinion make some great equipment. I am sure the Telstra Mobile engineers have thoroughly investigated their options and have validated the suitability of the technology.

I also have reflected and realised, that the strategies employed by the Chinese government to help their burgeoning industries (20 years ago) were no different to other government initiatives around the world. I recall we used to have wheat subsidies for farmers, for example.

On the matter of security, if we worry about a foreign power “snooping” on us then shouldn’t we also be concerned with the likes of Microsoft, Google, Cerner, Apple and so on (although these companies are from more traditionally friendly countries). I wonder however if our regional relationships are altering. In more modern cyber security breach scenarios such as the Cambridge Analytica, the people involved are corporations and may actually pose more significant threats. I find that when people are worried about security they treat all such public networks as compromised and address by engaging in extra security infrastructure over the top of public infrastructure.

There are two facets to securing information and we typically consider disciplines around information at rest and information in motion. The mobile 5G network (if compromised) could be a way of intruding or intercepting information in motion. To counter that we can use technology such as Signal, HTTPS, WhatsApp or similar.

The other aspect of course, is that the critical infrastructure could be shut down at an appropriate time, however I think there are so many competing technologies that alternatives could be sought in that time of crisis. I am also expecting that the engineers operating the infrastructure would be sensitive to this risk – as we are with our customer networks with new vendor firmware, for example.

So, in our fast moving technology space (where the equipment we install is out of date within 7 years), does it really matter if a Chinese vendor is selected? If Telstra can acquire the latest mobile phone technology at 30% less than other options, why not? I know a little about dealing with Chinese, so Telstra should go for 60% discount! And is it really so bad that we have relationships with countries other than the US?

- By Alan Kepper