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Before COVID-19, the issue of whether or not to allow China’s Huawei corporation to provide the fifth generation (5G) of internet equipment in Canada and other Western countries was hotly contested in public forums. China’s rise as the potential usurper of American power and ideological challenger to the liberal international order makes the matter fundamental in the context of escalating superpower competition.
The main practical advantages of 5G internet access – dramatically increased speed and capacity – make its adoption inevitable. The issue is whether to allow a Chinese company with the cheapest and readiest equipment to gain the contracts, or to favour smaller competitors such as Ericsson and Nokia, despite their handicaps of cost and scale.
Cyber-security is already a problem with existing technology. Moreover, since China already tightly controls the internet within its own borders – blocking Western social networking platforms while using them to manipulate opinions and systems in the West – skepticism about their commitment to a free and open internet globally is warranted. If China doesn’t trust Facebook, Twitter and other U.S. corporations to operate within its borders for security reasons, it’s fair to ask why any Western country would trust Huawei to have such a vital role in engineering their 5G systems.
This brings us back to the core issue at stake in the 5G debate. Neither the global system, nor any of its nations individually, can risk the possibility that the internet or the web could be disrupted, either deliberately or accidentally. And, as much as information security itself is of paramount importance in the rollout of 5G, the possibility that the growing Internet of Things itself could be weaponised or destabilised is even more critical.