The decision to allow Huawei equipment in the UK 5G RAN has set the proverbial “Cat amongst the pigeons” in international politics, 5G is portrayed as a “game changer”, enabling the Chinese state access to the UK 5G network. Appledore believe that this reflects the existing technical hype for 5G transferred to the political arena. The 5G that is being feared is a long way from the reality of any 5G that will be deployed in the near future. The UK decision is a pragmatic one that puts some limits on security risk whilst allowing the rapid economic delivery of 5G,

Economics of 5G needs to leverage 4G

The reality in the economics of 5G is that it needs to leverage the existing 4G network investment. In recent briefings by both Nokia and Ericsson, all of their 5G wins were tied to existing upgrade of 4G infrastructure. Nokia were very clear that the economic case for 5G roll out could not be made based on replacement of existing RAN infrastructure. All of the UK mobile operators have adopted Huawei because of its low cost, with BT and Vodafone having Huawei as a major supplier. They cannot deliver on the political demand for 5G economically without reusing this infrastructure. This was demonstrated by  BT Group shares dropping 7% on last week, after it warned that the 35% cap on the use of Huawei equipment in the 5G network will cost an estimated £500 million ($655 million) over the next five years.

Virtual 5G Core

5G in its early phases will leverage the existing 4G EPC core infrastructure. Early 5G is a 5G RAN bolted onto a 4G EPC, a 4G+. The virtualization of the 4G core means that its now possible to consider any vendor to deliver the core and deploy it on ubiquitous cloud infrastructure, rather than Huawei infrastructure. In any move to a 5G distributed core this model can and will be extended. The virtualization of the core also means that the economics of replacing Huawei in the core are less onerous.

Secure traffic is going to be end to end encrypted

The fear of “back doors” in Huawei RAN are real, but there are “back doors” in most technology, Back doors are an acceptable risk that is mitigated through security management; they have been since the dawn of the internet. We accept the tradeoff to utilize the technology. Secure traffic demands end to end encryption.

UK already trusts BT 4G network for emergency services. Why the fuss now?

UK has already decided to use the he BT/EE network, underpinned by Huawei 4G, for the UK emergency services network replacement. So why the fuss now? It can only be political.This project could only have been allowed if message security across a public network had been resolved.

Critical infrastructure

Private networks will be a key component of 5G networks in many key industrial sectors. Critical industries like ports, power stations, factories will as likely run their own private networks. Appledore’s analysis is that many of the exciting enterprise use cases that require 5G characteristics, like ultra reliable low latency, will be private networks. These don’t have to be Huawei sourced.