News Feature | July 23, 2019

The Week in 5G: 7/23/2019 — EU Assesses 5G Network Threats, Britain Delays Hauwei Decision, Hong Kong Sets Spectrum Auction

By Ed Biller


China’s BMW Brilliance Automotive (BBA) is the first automobile manufacturer to enable full 5G wireless coverage at all its plants, reported Green Car Congress on Monday. “This means that networked machines and systems can exchange data in real time, for instance, and align themselves even better with the production process,” the report states.

BBA also is launching a 5G pilot that transfers “large quantities of test data from vehicles to the data center in real time, making data collection and analysis more efficient. In this way, vehicle updates involving large volumes of data and real-time diagnostics could also be conducted remotely in the future.”

BBA tapped China Unicom and China Mobile to build the initiative’s infrastructure and network, and Green Car Congress reports the BMW Group is plotting local, private 5G networks at its plants in Germany, as well.

The European Union (EU) nations have banded together to assess cybersecurity risks associated with next-gen networks – the most notable is which is the ongoing discussion around using equipment from Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE. 

“… last week 24 member states submitted ‘national risk assessments’ to the European Commission in the first phase of an EU-wide cybersecurity analysis slated for completion by October 1 [2020],” reports RCR Wireless.

At the end of the year, the body’s Network and Information Systems Cooperation Group will form “a toolbox of mitigating measures to address the risks identified.”

Britain, though, kicked the cybersecurity can a bit further down the road on Monday, delaying a decision on Huawei could have a hand in building its 5G mobile networks. Reuters reports that Digital Minister Jeremy Wright and Parliament want a clearer picture of the U.S. Huawei gear ban’s impact on rollouts in the United States.

U.S. President Donald Trump has waffled on the ban in recent weeks, and Reuters added in a separate article that tech executives -- Intel, Qualcomm, Google, Micron, Microsoft, and Broadcom -- headed to the White House Monday to discuss the US’ Huawei ban with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow.

The sit-down comes as Huawei cut more than 600 jobs at its US research unit — Futurewei — this week, attributing the “reduction in force” directly to "the curtailment of business operations caused by the US," reported BBC News.

Cybersecurity is just one wrinkle in U.S. fight for 5G leadership. This column reported in June how 5G power signals, at the levels currently proposed by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, could severely impact satellites’ ability to read natural signals given off by water vapor. Neil Jacobs, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), even took the organization’s concerns to Congress, though the FCC plowed ahead with its 24 GHz spectrum auction a short time later.

Now, though, the FCC may have to contend with objections from the law enforcement community. Specifically, police in both the U.S. and the EU are capable of tracking and eavesdropping cell phones using 4G, but the tools they use to do so don’t work in the 5G network, reports Reuters.

In Hong Kong, meanwhile, the territory's Office of Communications Authority (OFCA) has publicly detailed its upcoming 5G spectrum auctions. Hong Kong will auction off 100MHz of 3.3GHz spectrum, 200MHz of 3.5GHz spectrum, and 80MHz of 4.9GHz spectrum — most of which is expected to go to the territory’s big three mobile network operators, reports Total Telecom.

In technology news comes the cheerful revelation that you don’t need a 5G device to reap the benefits of 5G initiatives. “All major wireless networks in the US became more reliable over the last year, due in large part to investments in network infrastructure to set the stage for 5G rollouts,” reports Business Insider, citing a recent J.D. Power study.

Business Insider’s report also points out how providers’ network equipment choices will affect both the services they offer and how those services are marketed. For example, Verizon and AT&T are using mmWave frequencies in their 5G rollouts, leading to faster network speeds at the cost of limited coverage areas. Conversely, Sprint uses mid-band spectrum, allowing for more far-reaching network coverage, at the cost of slower speeds than Verizon or AT&T. 

There already exist 5G capable phones that can take advantage of such rollouts, and Verizon launched last week its first 5G hotspot: the Inseego MiFi 1000. The device will set users back $650 (or $500, if you sign on for a two-year service contract).

In the ongoing “is 5G dangerous?” debate, Tim Childers of Live Science recently interviewed Kenneth Foster, a professor of bioengineering at Pennsylvania State University, who stated that, while he’d like to see more studies on the topic — particularly focusing on toxicology — he has yet to see convincing evidence of the dangers of 5G.

“Many opponents to the use of RF waves cherry-pick studies that support their argument, and often ignore the quality of the experimental methods or inconsistency of the results, Foster said,” writes Childers.

While the direct physical effects of 5G on our bodies may have been imagined or made up, its promise of greater connectivity threatens to exacerbate the smartphone-addicted nature of modern life, warns Forbes contributor Curtis Silver:

“We are pliable consumers, holding the entire world in our hands. The faster that world is delivered to us, the more connected we are to it — mental and physical consequences be dammed,” Silver writes. “5G is not a new drug, we're already hooked on what it delivers, but a more efficient delivery system allowing for us to indulge in a higher level of consumption that we might not yet realize the effect.”