The U.S. military is preparing for 5G. A Pentagon official this week detailed plans to experiment with 5G technologies and, as expected, Huawei will play no part in that effort.
Ellen Lord, the Department of Defense’s under secretary for acquisition and sustainment, said the Pentagon is in discussions with Ericsson and Nokia to provide equipment for its 5G network, according to Reuters.
“5G is a national security issue for us, especially because we have to rethink our industry base as we move forward,” she said at an Atlantic Council event, according to Defense One. “Economic security is national security and we need to make sure we have an industrial base that can play.”
The Pentagon is planning for a series of experiments later this year to learn more about propagation, latency, interference, and the equipment necessary to power 5G, Lord said. The Department of Defense also intends to develop proprietary technology to extend the capabilities of 5G for military communications, data analysis and information sharing.
In August 2018, Huawei equipment was formally banned from use by the U.S. government — and its contractors and suppliers — so the Pentagon is following administration policy by excluding Huawei from its 5G plans. “To veer from that course would raise eyebrows not only domestically but also partner nations which the administration is advising against adopting Huawei equipment,” said William Ho, principal analyst at 556 Ventures.
“It would be highly hypocritical if the government would effectively outlaw telecommunications providers to use Huawei equipment and then use it themselves in military networks,” said Roger Entner, founder and lead analyst at Recon Analytics.
‘Everybody Has Backdoors’
“You usually try not to buy equipment from a country that tries to spy on you on a daily basis,” Entner said. “One thing we learned out of the [former government contractor Edward] Snowden revelations is that everybody has backdoors, and if the [United States] was able to exploit Cisco backdoors it shouldn’t be surprising if the Ministry of State Security can exploit Huawei backdoors. So why buy Huawei equipment in some of our most secure places when the Chinese are trying to break into ours?”
Huawei has repeatedly denied accusations of espionage and filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government earlier this month to challenge the ban on its equipment. Moreover, Huawei CSO Andy Purdy told SDxCentral that these suspicions are “future looking” and wrapped up in wider geopolitical concerns about the national security of the United States.
While Lord, of the Defense Department, said a “total U.S. solution” was unlikely, it is effectively impossible. There are no options for 5G telecom equipment manufactured exclusively in the United States. Some U.S. companies like Cisco offer mobile backhaul equipment, but other components have to be sourced elsewhere.
U.S. carriers already have closer partnerships with Nokia and Ericsson, so there is a level of comfort in established operations and research and development interactions, Ho explained. “As with all Department of Defense infrastructure vendors, it’s likely they’d have to adhere to strict security requirements.”
The Pentagon Lobbies Allies
Whether or not the espionage concerns are well founded, Entner contends that it’s important for countries to champion companies that share and reflect their interests, much in the same way China is determined to make Huawei and ZTE strong to lessen its dependency on Cisco equipment, for example.
By using equipment from Nokia and Ericsson, the worst thing that can happen is the Finnish and Swedish intelligence services intercept critical communications, he said. “Considering they’re allies, I don’t see them doing that stuff.”
The U.S. government has been pushing its allies to block Huawei’s equipment, but many European countries are unconvinced of the threat — Germany recently told the United States to butt out over Huawei and 5G. However, Lord said the Pentagon is engaging in similar discussions with European allies about leaving Chinese-made equipment out of future 5G networks.
“I believe the military leadership of our allies will likely be more sensitive to Huawei and their equipment,” said Anshel Sag, analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy. “They will consider them, but also thoroughly vet whatever technology they consider.” Some allies will outright ban Huawei equipment, but many are going to be “abundantly cautious.”