As some Western countries remain cautious about embracing 5G technology because of Huawei’s involvement in the technology, Malaysia and many other countries are embracing it.

5G is the fifth-generation cellular technology that will change the way we use our handphones. According to Wikipedia, the Global Mobile Suppliers Association had identified 224 operators in 88 countries that are actively investing in 5G (i.e. that have demonstrated, tried and tested, or have been licensed to conduct field trials of 5G technologies, are deploying 5G networks or have announced service launches) as of April 2019. The first country to adopt 5G on a large scale was South Korea, in April 2019.

In Malaysia, Celcom Axiata Berhad became the first telco to deploy the country’s first 5G Live Cluster Field Trial at the Celcom’s headquarters, @celcom in July this year. The six-month 5G field trial will be conducted at @celcom and within the surrounding areas of Petaling Jaya Sentral, with the objective of testing and observing the use cases and behaviour of 5G coverage within real-life environments.

BENEFITS OF 5G

Most of the countries are expected to switch on the 5G networks later this year. The benefits of 5G are many. Alex Liew, the executive director of Glocomp Systems Malaysia Sdn Bhd, gives an insight on what to expect when 5G becomes available to all.

“5G consumers will get to enjoy improved and uninterruptible broadband connectivity, very clear streaming video quality and more impressive mobile gaming services. The industrial and service such as the manufacturing, automotive, agriculture, healthcare, public safety, smart city, education and many more, will benefit from this technology, which in turn will have a positive impact on the consumers. 5G would also help us reach out to a bigger audience, like live-streaming an event. It will also have a huge impact on IoT – driverless cars and in many other ways which we may not even fathom.”

THE HUAWEI CONTROVERSY

Huawei was founded in 1987 in Shenzen, China, has grown to become a technological giant that employs more than 180,000 employees of whom 76,000 are engaged in R&D. In 2017 it was reported that the company invested USD 13.8 billion in R&D! Huawei has taken the technological lead in supplying equipment for 5G. In Malaysia, Celcom is working closely with Huawei in rolling out its 5G Cluster Field Trial.

Many western countries, especially the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and Germany among others, have expressed their worry about major network security risks with Huawei. These countries fear that Huawei could help the Chinese Government in spying and cyber espionage. They also fear that in the event of a war, China might direct Huawei to disable other countries’ critical telecom infrastructure.

Other countries like New Zealand where its companies have already signed deals with Huawei are considering removing the involvement of Chinese nationals from being involved in building the network.

One of the reasons for this concern is because of a law passed in 2017 in China that states that Chinese “organisations and citizens shall, in accordance with the law, support, cooperate with and collaborate on national intelligence work.” The passing of this law is one of the reasons many Western countries have taken measures to shut Huawei out of their countries 5G programmes. The United States, in particular, feels vulnerable as it does not own any of the technology for the 5G revolution. This, together with its trade war with China, has cast a pall on Huawei’s ability to penetrate the American and its close allies’ markets.

MALAYSIA WELCOMES HUAWEI

But not all countries look at Huawei with suspicion. Many like Malaysia, welcome the investment from Huawei in the country’s 5G rollout. Malaysia’s Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, has emphatically declared that the country will make use of Huawei’s technology as much as possible. He noted that Huawei’s research is far bigger than Malaysia’s capability and that its technology is more advanced than American technology. He also said that he was not concerned over allegations of espionage activities, because “we are an open book”.

SECURITY THREATS OF 5G

However, there are some security threats associated with 5G, says experts. Alex, whose company specialises in cybersecurity, says that the nature of 5G networks intensifies the cybersecurity threat.

“Across the country, consumers, companies, and cities seeking to use 5G are ill-equipped to assess, let alone address, its threats. Placing the security responsibility on the user is an unrealistic expectation, yet it is a major principle of present cybersecurity activities. Ransomware, malware, crypto-jacking, identity theft, and data breaches have become so common that users are more afraid of cybercrime than they are of becoming a victim of violent crime. The adding of more devices to the online universe is destined to create more opportunities for disruption,” he says.

Cheah Kok Hoong, Group CEO of Hitachi Sunway Information Systems and Chairman of OM, a chapter that focuses on GBS, shares the same concern regarding security. “Security concerns are always legitimate when it involves the collection of massive amounts of data as it serves as a platform that could cripple governments and nations in the blink of an eye. Thus, constant monitoring of the situation will probably assist in predicting potential impacts to security, a multi-supplier policy could potentially make it easier to mitigate the security risk factor,” he opines.

TAKING PRECAUTIONS

The Malaysian government is aware of the security concerns that surround 5G and has taken measures to ensure that the rollout of the 5G network here will be as smooth as possible.