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Huawei doesn’t need the West to become major player in 5G, says security expert

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The United Kingdom may have joined the United States and Australia in banning Chinese tech giant Huawei from participating in its 5G network, but one journalist says the company “doesn’t need the West.”

“It is a company who will be able to surely be an incredibly powerful player in 5G, in the developing world and in Asia, with or without the West,” said Garrett Graff, contributing editor for Wired magazine, where he covers national security and intelligence.

“What you might end up seeing is a split where Huawei’s technology becomes the backbone of most of Africa and Latin America and a billion users across Asia and China,” he told The Current’s guest host Nahlah Ayed.

“The U.S. and Canada and Europe end up instead building a different network, relying on Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Ericsson and Samsung.”

5G networks represent the next generation of wireless technology, promising significantly faster internet speeds. Graff said there could be implications for innovation and new technologies, if there was such a global split in the networks that support them. 

WATCH | Pressure on Canada as Britain bans Huawei from its 5G network:

Britain has joined the growing list of countries banning Huawei from working on 5G networks, and the decision puts extra pressure on Canada to make a final decision. 1:55

Canada yet to decide

On Tuesday, the U.K. government ordered all Huawei equipment to be purged from its 5G network by the year 2027. The announcement changes direction from a January decision to allow the company a limited role in building the network.

A spokesperson for Huawei called the decision “disappointing” and urged the British government to reconsider.

Graff said the U.K.’s reversal stems from the Trump administration’s campaign to limit Huawei’s involvement in 5G infrastructure globally, over concerns the company would act as an agent for the Chinese government. The company has denied it spies for China.

“You have seen this tidal wave of criminal charges, legal cases, trade restrictions and outright technology bans emanating from the United States, all geared towards opposing the growth and expansion of Huawei’s 5G technology into Western networks,” Graff said.

Canada has not yet decided on Huawei’s role in its own 5G network but faces pressure from the U.S. to join countries excluding it. Last month, the State Department said it was prepared to reassess intelligence sharing with Canada if Huawei was involved in 5G. 

WATCH | What is 5G and how can it change your life?

5G cellular networks — the next step up from 4G — are being developed for testing in some cities but won’t be fully functional until 2020. It’s touted as being 100 times faster than 4G, but while 5G’s benefits have the potential to change the way cities work, implementing it could prove to be quite costly 7:20

‘A fight between two superpowers’

“This really is a fight between two superpowers about who is going to control the critical technologies of the next generation,” Graff said.

He said the conflict is also part of “a generational rethinking of how the West interacts with China,” after decades of hope that economic ties would bridge political differences.

Graff said that rethink is being prompted in part by human rights abuses and China’s role in Hong Kong

“Co-operative engagement over the last two decades has actually not seen China embrace democracy or Western norms in the way that many foreign policy experts had hoped.” 

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Sarah-Joyce Battersby, Julie Crysler and Samira Mohyeddin.

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