5G is Slowly Going Live in the U.S. Despite Security Threats

Man holding smartphone.

Man holding smartphone.

Phone companies have been hyping 5G coverage since 2016, in 2017, Verizon was already talking about releasing 5G to several cities in the U.S. In April of 2019, Verizon launched its first 5G network in the U.S., promising that before 2020 started, it would be covering 30 major American cities. T-Mobile’s 5G has already gone nationwide (earlier this month) and other carriers like AT&T are pushing to offer 5G in the next several months as well. Unfortunately, 5G isn’t all what it seems.

A Connected World

Robert Spalding, the (ex) senior director for strategic planning at the National Security Council, has had his eye on 5G coverage for a while now. As a senior director at the National Security Council, he’s seen enough in the world of security to know that nothing is as safe as it seems.

This is why when 5G rolled out, promising internet speeds over 100 times faster than they are today, a world where everything from refrigerators, dog collars, and dialysis pumps are all connected, a fourth industrial revolution, Spalding, was a skeptic of its security.

A connected world is largely susceptible to cyberattacks. “5G is not just for refrigerators,” Spalding said. “It’s farm implements, it’s airplanes, it’s all kinds of different things that can actually kill people or that allow someone to reach into the network and direct those things to do what they want them to do. It’s a completely different threat that we’ve never experienced before.”

One of the solutions to incorporating cyber defenses into 5G was forming a company made from major telecom companies- Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile- and share it; keeping the government out of the network. “It [5G] was meant to be a nationwide network,” Spalding said, not a nationalized one. “They could build this network and then sell bandwidth to their retail customers. That was one idea, but it was never that the government would own the network. It was always about, How do we get industry to actually secure the system?” [1]

Huawei, a Chinese manufacturer of consumer electronics and telecommunications equipment, leads the world in 5G technology currently. Since being founded in the 80s, Huawei has been accused several times of being a conduit to Chinese intelligence. Republican senators Tom Cotton, of Arkansas, and John Cornyn, of Texas, have both called the company a “Trojan horse,” stating that they could “give China effective control of the digital commanding heights.” [2]

Although Huawei denies these claims of being an agent of the Chinese government, the company is under Chinese law that requires companies to cooperate with their state intelligence.

5G Nationwide

In early 2019 Verizon launched its first 5G network in the U.S. By the end of 2019, the company planned to have 5G coverage offered to 30 major U.S. cities. Now, halfway through December, Verizon has just offered coverage to its 19th city, LA, and has 11 more to go before the new year. [3]

This doesn’t look good at all compared to T-Mobile’s 5G coverage that went nationwide at the beginning of December.

However, even though both of these companies are offering 5G, their definitions of “5G” are different. Verizon is focused on fast (but short-ranged) wideband 5G- they also have received a plethora of complaints about the finicky nature of their new coverage. T-Mobile, however, offers long-ranged 5G that isn’t prone to interference- it’s also only mildly faster than LTE.

Until these networks mature and the fruit of these companies becomes evident, it’s hard to tell whether it’s a better choice to stick with slower speeds and not worry about finicky 5G that comes with a risk of being watched by the Chinese government or switching to 5G which is only available in limited areas and varies between being little faster than your standard LTE and being short-ranged and finicky.

 


Notes:

  1. ^The Terrifying Potential of 5G Technology.” New Yorker, 30 Apr. 2019, www.newyorker.com/news/annals-of-communications/the-terrifying-potential-of-the-5g-network. (go back↩)
  2. ^Tom Cotton, John Cornyn. “Keep the Chinese government away from 5G technology.” Washington Post, 1 Apr. 2019, www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/keep-the-chinese-government-away-from-5g-technology/2019/04/01/ba7a30ac-54b3-11e9-9136-f8e636f1f6df_story.html. (go back↩)
  3. ^5G Coverage Map: This is 5G Built Right | Verizon.” 16 Dec. 2019, www.verizonwireless.com/5g/coverage-map/?AID=11365093&SID=72705X1521812X8994e6991d712957cdff14477e3e92b9&vendorid=CJM&PUBID=7649589&cjevent=3c2112fc204211ea827700270a24060c. (go back↩)

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