As we all should be aware by now, 5G is the next ‘big thing’ in the mobile telecoms market. But as with any major change to infrastructure, there is risk, and recent events have sparked worries over the 5G supply chain.

Much of this centres around the use of Chinese suppliers such as Huawei and ZTE to provide infrastructure equipment that will form part of the backbone of the 5G system – The government has launched a Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review to ensure that the whole telecoms network is resilient, secure and safe.

Why the concern?

The key attraction of 5G is that it means faster data transmission over mobile networks. This is important not just for consumers, it has an impact on the telecoms industry too.

Suppliers of VoIP wholesale services like, for example, will benefit from it being easier to make IP calls over the mobile network and therefore reduce calling costs for end users.

Why then should we worry about the equipment used to provide the service? The issue with Chinese companies, particularly those like Huawei that are owned by or close to the Chinese state, centres on fears that there could be ‘back doors’ built into their equipment that would give the Chinese government access to personal information, or even allow it to steal western technology or disrupt communication systems. This is a technical issue but it’s also a political one.

Pressing ahead

There’s no doubt that 5G is going ahead, with trials already underway in some parts of the country. Huawei kit is considered to be key to both BT and Three’s 5G rollout plans. Other countries, however, have taken a different approach. Australia has, for example, banned some companies from taking any part in providing the country’s 5G technology. Huawei is also banned from bidding for government contracts in the United States.

The problem is that this is fairly specialist kit and there are a limited number of alternative suppliers globally. That means that excluding a particular supplier could have serious implications for the state of the rollout. Huawei, meanwhile, is working hard to allay fears and ensure that it retains its position and has even set up a centre in Banbury to allow the UK government to check its code for safety.

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