Test network backs role for Huawei in non-core 5G services
By Pattrick Smellie
Nov. 22 (BusinessDesk) - China's Huawei is demonstrating its willingness to stay away from the central elements of New Zealand's soon-to-arrive 5G mobile network.
It has announced a world-first trial, in conjunction with Spark New Zealand, that separates access to the network from its core.
The launch comes amid a combination of spy agency and competitor pressure to exclude Huawei from the rollout of 5G. The technology will make fast internet ubiquitous and will be key to the rise of services such as self-driving cars and the so-called Internet of Things in which digital technology controls a vast array of day-to-day services and interactions.
A key part of the concern is that 5G's core services will be more vulnerable than the current 4G network. But Huawei's deputy managing director for New Zealand, Andrew Bowater, said the company was determined to show it could be a player without being part of the 5G core.
"The Auckland live multi-vendor 5G trial emphatically proves it is possible to retain the critical access-core network separation," Bowater said in a statement. That separation "enables operators such as Spark to operate in a multi-vendor network environment and retains the ability of governments to regulate vendor technology mix while maintaining a competitive market."
Australia, the United States and Britain - all partners in the global 'Five Eyes' Anglo-speaking telecommunications intelligence-gathering alliance - have banned Huawei from their mobile networks. They fear its Chinese ownership makes it susceptible to requests for assistance with spying from Beijing.
German officials were reported last weekend by Thomson Reuters also to be trying to convince their government that Huawei should be excluded from German 5G infrastructure for the same reasons.
However, Spark chief executive Simon Moutter said at the company's annual meeting on Nov. 2 that Huawei was a competitive, world-class vendor that should be allowed to participate in the 5G roll-out unless the government had "incontrovertible evidence" that Huawei's gear poses a national security threat.
Asked by BusinessDesk whether the trial network announced today indicated Huawei's acceptance that it could not expect to be part of the 5G core but should be allowed to offer the services around it, Bowater said: "Yes. That's exactly our argument."
The trial network effectively replicated the 4G network's provider arrangements, with US-based provider Cisco supplying the core and Huawei supplying Radio Access Network gear.
Competitors had claimed such a separation would not be possible in a 5G network, but the trial by Huawei and Spark proved otherwise, said Bowater.
"From a risk point of view, the architecture is very similar to a 4G network," he said. The trial also demonstrated a path to 5G implementation that would be familiar to Spark, which will be racing against the clock to install 5G services in 2020, in time for the America's Cup. Moutter announced a Team New Zealand collaboration on 5G last week, despite the government having yet to even confirm the timetable to auction off the radio spectrum required for 5G to exist at all.
The trial network now operating in Auckland is functioning on "loaned" spectrum for the purposes of the test exercise, said Bowater.