UK Seeks Japan's Help with 5G Wireless Networks

05-08-2020 | By Robin Mitchell

With major countries around the world moving away from Chinese developed solutions, there is ample opportunity for tech companies to provide infrastructure. Why is the UK seeking help from Japan, and why has the UK banned the use of Chinese-developed equipment?

What is 5G, and why is it so important?

As many mobile users will attest to, the move from 3G to 4G saw a significant increase in both mobile data speeds, as well as capacity. However, the introduction of 5G will radically change the role that cellular data plays in day to day life thanks to a range of recent technological advances and the advantages that 5G brings.

To start, 5G is the next generation of cellular technology that will provide users with significantly higher download speeds, lower ping, and greater capacity. 5G enables many more devices to be connected to a single station which is achieved using phased arrays and massive-in multi-out (MIMO) systems that can direct radio beams to specific targets. This allows for multiple devices to be near each other without interfering with each other’s communication, thus allowing for higher transfer speeds.

But 5G will be different in another way to its predecessors; it could very likely become the first generic widespread internet connection. Mobile technologies such as 3G and 4G are generally reserved for mobile devices that use SIM cards to gain access, and these technologies are not able to handle tens of thousands of devices connected to a single point. The introduction of billions of IoT devices, as well as the inclusion of internet services in automotive vehicles globally, has shown a need for a mobile network that can handle all devices. 5G could be the answer to this and is believed to be able to handle such traffic. The use of such a network also has advantages in allowing remote devices to easily move around without reconnection losses, as well as enable all devices a direct link to the internet.

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Why are governments turning away from Chinese technology?

Integrating 5G infrastructure is no easy task, especially when considering that 5G is the latest mobile technology to date. While multiple companies around the world have developed this tech, China arguably has the largest, and most profitable companies in this field (such as Huawei). However, China has a bad reputation for interfering in company interests, committing widespread cybercrime, and modifying hardware to enable remote access. This has led to governments around the world to ban the use of Chinese tech in crucial infrastructure projects that, if hacked or attacked, could lead to serious issues including power outage, communication shut down, and economic ruin. 

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Hardware Manufactured in China is at Risk

The problem with avoiding Chinese technology is that it goes beyond intellectual property and design; even a UK designed circuit manufactured in China is at risk. Graphics processor units used in many servers around the world were found to have contained a small backdoor chip that would gain remote attackers’ entry into the system once activated. The chip that was inserted into the PCB was made to look like a signal decoupling part, and its size was unbelievably small. Despite not having been included in the schematic or PCB design, one or more engineers at the plant were able to incorporate it into the design, correctly route it in, and then have the parts added during assembly. The boards were manufactured in China, so it’s probable the attackers originated from there and were instructed by either government officials or high-ranking members of the military. 

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The UK Seeks Japanese Expertise

The UK’s decision to ban Huawei equipment into 5G infrastructure means that they need to find non-Chinese companies to provide said equipment. However, when choosing companies to work in the 5G field, it is essential that competition is present to ensure that prices can be kept low while also helping to push advances in the sector. Two Japanese companies, NEC and Fujitsu, could be the answer for replacing Huawei as both provide 5G technologies. 

Other companies, such as Ericsson and Nokia, already exist in the UK and provide cellular technologies, but the removal of Huawei has left the government concerned with a lack of competition. Not only have British officials discussed the move with their counterparts in Japan, but the government has also ordered cellular technology companies to purge all Huawei equipment from their system by 2027 demonstrating the conviction of the government to move away from Chinese manufactured equipment.

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By Robin Mitchell

Robin Mitchell is an electronic engineer who has been involved in electronics since the age of 13. After completing a BEng at the University of Warwick, Robin moved into the field of online content creation, developing articles, news pieces, and projects aimed at professionals and makers alike. Currently, Robin runs a small electronics business, MitchElectronics, which produces educational kits and resources.