5G Interoperability 101: How the Adoption of Open, Interoperable Standards of 5G Can Protect Nations from Foreign Adversaries

As nations throughout the world deploy the next generation of wireless technology, 5G, they must assess and prepare for attacks on this critical communications infrastructure. China’s global expansion into the telecommunications market via companies like Huawei, a technology giant with connections to the People’s Republic of China, poses a credible cyber-threat to these networks and to the overall safety of a nation. The European Commission recognizes these concerns and is currently conducting an EU-wide risk assessment, analyzing the threats that Huawei and other Chinese technology companies present.

Mitigating the Risk:

Huawei, ZTE, and other Chinese companies are subject to a 2017 Chinese National Intelligence law, which requires support for Chinese intelligence activities around the world. Furthermore, their history of accepting state-sponsored grants make companies like Huawei and ZTE an urgent security risk. If a country or mobile network is locked into using Huawei’s 5G equipment, the entire network will need to be ripped out if a bug or security flaw were to be identified. This would be a cost-prohibitive step for most countries, leaving them with a compromised wireless network and risking information sharing practices.

Governments can mitigate these 5G cyber threats by adopting standards that require vendor diversity and interoperability, which is the ability for the components of two separate vendors to communicate with one another. This emerging engineering practice is promoted by two international standards organizations, the Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP) and the Open Radio Access Network (O-RAN) Alliance.

Read more about how interoperable networks provide solutions in this concise one-page review of interoperability.

Interoperability can be simplified if you think of emojis and how they appear on different cellular devices. Check out the graphic below:

Graphic explanation of the concept of interoperability