5G World Alliance: Australia needs more 5G experts

Australia is facing multiple barriers in deploying and adopting 5G technology, 5G World Alliance chair Latif Ladid has said, suggesting better promotion, university curricula, 'pressure groups', and a detailed 5G roadmap.

Australia is in danger of lagging in 5G deployment and adoption, 5G World Alliance chair Latif Ladid has said, with suggestions to improve the situation including developing more experts, formulating pressure groups to face government, and a more detailed technology roadmap.

Speaking at a roundtable during the 5G Business Summit in Sydney on Monday, Ladid said Australia needs an expert group made up of carrier and networking CTOs, and a working group for every 5G vertical to ensure businesses in sectors such as mining will take up and pay for such technologies.

Deploying the actual technology only makes up a small percentage of its success, he argued.

"When you have the technology ... it makes up 20 percent. The rest is promotion, it's 80 percent," Ladid said.

"You are now at 0 percent in terms of promotion. You have to fix that.

"You have to create the momentum in order to create awareness -- it's like a beautiful lady; if she stays in her room, she'll never get married. That's 5G in this country."

In order to develop future local experts, Ladid said it is important to introduce a university curriculum because "there is zero in this country".

"You don't want to import engineers from outside, it's bad for you," Ladid said.

"That [curriculum] will take about two or three years; you have to start building your own experts, even if they know just the minimum."

Ladid also criticised the lack of a detailed Australian 5G roadmap, especially in comparison to 5G Americas, which has every United States carrier behind it, all of which are members of 3GPP with high technical expertise, a detailed roadmap, and all verticals being addressed.

Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) CEO Chris Althaus said Australia's 5G working group will have work streams spun off the main group, with teams already looking into transport, health, and agriculture, but noted that it is lacking in industry expertise.

The Australian government should also be sending a ministerial delegation to telco events such as Mobile World Congress (MWC), the 5G World Alliance chair said, with Telstra executive director Network and Infrastructure Channa Seneviratne saying one of the biggest challenges thus far has been making spectrum available.

"It's taken us a long time to lobby the government to bring the mid-band spectrum auctions forward to October. Everyone's been involved in lobbying and it's taken a huge effort, and we're keen to see the same thing happen for millimetre wave, but we don't have a definite date, so that's certainly an issue for us," Seneviratne said.

While Ladid suggested that this requires a "pressure group" to push spectrum with the government, Althaus said carriers are too competitive for this in Australia -- and while they've agreed on band preference, "there are quite fundamental differences when it comes to timing".

Huawei Australia CTO Dr David Soldani agreed that in comparison to Europe, there are no experts in Australia and no initiative from the government, while Huawei Australia's new chief digital officer Albert Tan suggested that all three carriers meet with Huawei, other vendors, AMTA, and industry body Communications Alliance for working sessions to discuss what is working in 5G deployments internationally.

Ladid also said that there needs to be a pressure group pushing Chinese tech companies being able to provide 5G equipment -- not only with whitepapers and evidence from the vendors themselves, but from a group of industry experts banding together, peer reviewed by experts.

Speaking on how the use of Huawei technology in telecommunications infrastructure has been facing national security concerns in the US and in Australia, Huawei Australia cyber security officer Malcolm Shore said decisions should not be made in the absence of technical knowledge, because they will have "substantial long-term effects".

"There has been a lot of talk about security, there's been a lot of discussion on whether Chinese vendors in general should be allowed in the infrastructure, and Huawei in particular," Shore said.

"We seem to have suddenly jumped on an issue of 5G networks, where now suddenly it's become a defining issue for the future of Australia. And yet ... we haven't really had a step change in cybersecurity.

"Certainly from a Huawei perspective, deploying 5G RAN into a 4G network is not going to cause a step change in security -- in fact, it's going to be better security, because 5G [has] better security."

Read also: Huawei Australia CEO: We don't collect any data that could be sent to China

Seneviratne said the decision on whether Huawei will be permitted to play in the Australian 5G space is a federal government one, with Telstra focusing on protecting its networks during the move to software-defined networking (SDN).

"Obviously, we are talking to Huawei as part of our normal business as usual," Seneviratne said.

"[But] all the carriers all around the world are transforming to NFV and software-defined networking, and we are introducing x86 compute platforms, and that in itself will increase the number of attack surfaces that we now have to now manage.

"To me, that's more the issue -- is how do we manage any sort of cybersecurity, cyber attacks ... that's a general issue facing any carrier anywhere. That's where our focus is on, in how we manage and protect against that."

According to Ladid, research from the 5G World Alliance showed China lagging in responsibility for cyber attacks globally, in comparison to Cyprus-based Russians in first place, the Virgin Islands in second, and Russia in eighth place.

"China is actually [ranked] 32, which is amazing, because everybody is saying the Chinese are hacking," Ladid said.

"It's actually the opposite -- Americans are hacking China like crazy."

Shore agreed that nearly every country worldwide is "playing spy versus spy".

"There is a lot of speculation, and I think it's dangerous again to make substantial policy decisions that are going to change the country's future on the basis of speculation," Shore added.

"I'd like to see a lot more research on cybersecurity in 5G. I think instead of being scared by it, actually grasping it and doing something with it would be a better strategy, where we looked at the issues and we found engineering solutions, we found ways of fixing the concerns that are driving some of the debate and policy."

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