News Feature | January 22, 2019

The Week In 5G: 1/22/2019 – Germany Mulls Huawei Ban, ZTE Claims World's First 5G Call On A Smartphone

By Jof Enriquez,
Follow me on Twitter @jofenriq


Germany is considering a ban on Huawei equipment for building the country's 5G infrastructure.

"The security of the future 5G network is of high relevance to the Federal Government. The Federal Government will be guided by this in connection with the establishment of a future 5G network," The Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy told CNBC.

Such a ban would bring Germany in line with other Western countries that have blocked Huawei on security concerns. The United States, Australia, and New Zealand already have imposed bans, while the United Kingdom has expressed "grave, very deep concerns about Huawei providing the 5G network in Britain."

On Germany's potential ban, Huawei responded, "we also welcome the approach of verification and standardization of technological solutions publicly communicated by the German Federal Government. We see no rational reason to exclude Huawei from building the 5G infrastructure in any country in the world."

Despite facing bans in major developed markets, Huawei earned $100 billion in revenues in 2018, and still is considered the world's largest supplier of telecoms network equipment. Its position is bolstered by rising demand from developing countries, which prefer the cost-effective equipment from Huawei, compared to Western suppliers. Eastern European countries remain positive towards Huawei despite the growing global backlash against the company.

However, a ban by Germany may influence other European countries to reassess their stance.

"Given 5G's role in national critical infrastructure such as utilities and transport, it's understandable that geopolitical considerations are being bought into the discussion," James Chappell, co-founder and chief innovation officer at digital security firm Digital Shadows, told CNBC. "Germany is a member of NATO, and it is known to share intelligence with other NATO members which include the United States...I think it more likely that other NATO members in Europe respond (before EU member states.)"  

Meanwhile, Canada still is weighing whether to allow Huawei from participating in its 5G rollout. According to Bloomberg, Canadian security agencies are still conducting a "security review of 5G telecommunications" including "potential security vulnerabilities," and that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau still is "months away" from making a decision.

Canada and China are mired in a diplomatic row following Canada's recent arrest of a top Huawei official, and subsequent arrests of Canadian citizens – as well as the re-sentencing of one Canadian arrested in 2016 to death – by Chinese authorities.

ZTE, the other Chinese company whose own ban was lifted by the U.S. after paying a $1 billion penalty, is forging ahead with 5G research and development. Its latest achievement was completing the world's first 5G call by means of the company's 5G prototype smartphone in a 5G field trial in Shenzhen, one of the first 5G pilot cities of China Unicom. This week's 5G call verified several 5G key technologies such as Massive MIMO, 5G NR, NSA dual connectivity, FlexE transport technology and 5G Common Core, as well as demonstrated actual applications, such as Wechat group voice call, online video and web browsing.

Beyond common 5G applications, China is demonstrating successfully some of the more advanced 5G use cases. This week, a surgeon in China became the first to perform remote control surgery over a super-fast 5G network with a lag time of a mere 0.1 seconds, allowing almost real-time precision. The surgeon, who was 30 miles from an operating theater in Fujian province, manipulated two robotic arms to remove a laboratory animal's liver, reported Sky News/The South China Morning Post.

“For the first time, the speed and latency of 5G are now meeting the requirements of tele-presence and even tele-surgery," Dr Michael Kranzfelder, a senior physician at the Rechts der Isar Hospital, said during last year's German Society of Surgery, reported the Independent.

With its ultra-low latency, 5G will be a "trend-setting technology which will play an important role in surgery," Dr. Kranzfelder told Sky News. In addition, 5G will "open up many new areas of application for which the previous mobile data transmission standard was simply not fast enough".

Some of the more exciting use cases involve autonomous vehicles that communicate with other smart vehicles, objects and pedestrians. For example, Seoul and SK Telecom are developing "cooperative-intelligent transport systems" that use 5G signals to increase road traffic safety, reported ZDNet. They will install 5G sensors at major roads in Seoul to detect jaywalkers and alert nearby automobiles, as well as to notify drivers of nearby collisions or the presence of potholes created in monsoons. The sensors will connect with 5G Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) handsets to be given to 2,000 buses, taxis, and traffic lights in the South Korean capital.

In other news, IBM and Vodafone have formed an alliance to bring Europe's 5G technology up to par with those of the United States and China. For eight years, IBM and Vodafone's new joint venture based in London will co-develop digital solutions around 5G, artificial intelligence, and cloud capabilities.

"Bringing together this end-to-end idea from Vodafone and IBM is going to be a game-changer for our customers," Michael Valoochi, general manager at IBM, told CNBC.

Singapore is developing 5G solutions, as well, through a newly-built 5G Garage live testbed facility at the Singapore Polytechnic (SP). The facility will provide students and researchers a venue to develop 5G applications aimed at the transportation and healthcare sectors using Singtel's 5G network and Ericsson's 5G technology.

"The 5G Garage will be an exciting place where SP staff and students will work alongside Singtel, Ericsson and their partners to research and experiment with 5G technology, conduct 5G use case trials, and develop innovative 5G solutions and applications for businesses and industry," the principal and chief executive of SP, Mr Soh Wai Wah, told The Straits Times.

SDX Central notes that 2019 will be an important year for 5G spectrum allocations. The U.S. FCC currently is auctioning millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum in the 28 GHz band, and is set to follow up with an auction in the 24 GHz band. Switzerland also is set to begin a spectrum auction in the 700 MHz, 1.4 GHz, 2.6 GHz, and 3.5 GHz bands. Germany intends to push through this spring its spectrum auction for the 2 GHz and 3.7 GHz–3.8 GHz bands, despite industry opposition.

Other countries with scheduled auctions are: Austria (3.4 GHz-3.8 GHz in February 2019), Japan (4.4 GHz–4.9 GHz, 3.6 GHz–4.2 GHz, and the 28 GHz band by March 2019), Canada (600 MHz in March 2019) and Hong Kong (24.25 GHz–27.5 GHz and 27.5 GHz-28.35 GHz by April 2019), according to the Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA).

In addition, the following countries already have granted 5G licenses for at least one spectrum band: Australia, Finland, Italy, Ireland, Latvia, Mexico, South Korea, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates. Czechia, Germany, Greece, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Tanzania, and Thailand. Meanwhile, sixteen countries plan to allocate 5G-suitable frequencies before the end of 2020, while 13 countries can potentially auction some spectrum for future 5G use.