GSMA squares up to the space industry

The GSMA has released a statement directed at the lobby groups who are attempting to limit access to the valuable mmWave spectrum frequencies over fears it would interfere with weather forecasting.

While the mmWave spectrum has long been heralded as the holy-grail for telcos when attempting to increase download speeds in the 5G era, the space and satellite industry has been attempting to limit access due to interference with various systems including weather forecasting.

No decisions have been formally made, though the GSMA naturally wants to pressure governments into releasing more spectrum as it performs it duties as the industry’s lobby group.

“We can’t let misinformation and the overly protectionist attitudes of the space industry derail the 5G revolution,” says Brett Tarnutzer, Head of Spectrum, GSMA.

“Over-stringent protection will limit the spectrum needed for 5G and have huge consequences for society. This could put the economic and innovation bonanza accompanying ultra-fast networks on hold for a generation.”

The GSMA is being fairly obvious with its message here. Ignore the fears of the space industry and give the telcos more spectrum. You shouldn’t really expect anything less from the lobby group either; telcos are screaming out for more of the valuable resource.

This spat dates back to objections from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which unveiled a report suggesting the high-frequency spectrum bands would interfere with weather forecasting systems, potentially decreasing the accuracy. Democrat Senators Ron Wyden (Oregon) and Maria Cantwell (Washington) jumped on a report produced by NOAA and NASA, writing to the Oval Office suggesting a halt on spectrum usage in the 24 GHz bands.

Over the next couple of weeks, it would not be a surprise to see this conflict enter into the back and forth as the World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 is set to start in 100 days-time. At this event, 3000 delegates will attempt to agree on how radio-wave capacity will be used.

The question these delegates will have to answer is what is more important. The space agency has defended the use of the spectrum for weather forecasting, demonstrating its important to safety and various different industries, but the GSMA has done the same. Most governments are looking towards technology and connectivity as a means to generate economic momentum and the swift implementation of 5G is critical to ensure individual nations do not fall behind the global leaders.

What we suspect will happen is a middle-ground will be found, an attempt to appease all parties involved, though no-one is entirely satisfied. This is generally how such bureaucratic exercises tend to unravel.

GSMA set for crisis meeting at MWC over Huawei bans – report

GSMA Director General Mats Granryd has reportedly been writing to members to set up a meeting on the side-lines of Mobile World Congress to discuss what to do about further Huawei bans.

Huawei might be facing pressure from governments around the world, but if reports turn out to be true, diminished support from the operator industry’s own lobby group would be a significant dent in the confidence of the vendor. As Huawei is one of the firms which contribute financially to GSMA events with astronomically large stands and branding presence, it certainly would be a brave move from the association.

According to Reuters, Granryd has proposed the implications of further Huawei bans should be discussed as an item on the agenda at the next board meeting. The meeting will take place during Mobile World Congress in Barcelona at the end of the month.

The GSMA has been evasive in its response to the claims, confirming there will be a board meeting (there always is), though the agenda has not been set. The meeting will of course discuss all the most pressing points in the telco industry, of which the Huawei situation has to be one, but there is no confirmation of specifics.

That said, it would not be unusual for such a discussion to take place. The GSMA board is made up of representatives from 25 of the worlds largest operators, the majority of which must be twitchy about the relationship between Huawei and the Chinese government. The US, Japan and Australia have already banned Huawei from contributing to 5G infrastructure, while more are putting very stringent conditions around participation.

Germany is one which is considering upping the security requirements to protect itself, however, Chinese companies which meet the criteria would still be allowed to do business. However, these protections might well be superseded by broader sweeping rules from the European Commission banning any companies from ‘suspect’ countries from providing kit for critical infrastructure.

Another Reuters report quotes German leader Angela Merkel as calling for guarantees from Huawei that it won’t hand over data to the Chinese state. Everything about Huawei will make executives nervous at the moment. To make such vast investments the telcos need certainty and consistency with policies and regulations. Huawei is the polar opposite of these concepts.

The focal point of the anxiety is the National Intelligence Law, which kicked into effect during July 2017. The law gives Chinese intelligence agency an extraordinarily wide remit to monitor both domestic and international ‘threats’, as well as the power to coerce domestic Chinese companies to aide its ambitions.

Here are a couple of the relevant articles from the original text passed into law:

  • Article 12: National intelligence work institutions may, according to relevant state regulations, establish cooperative relationships with relevant individuals and organizations, and commission them to carry out related work.
  • Article 14: National intelligence work institutions, when carrying out intelligence work according to laws, may ask relevant institutions, organizations and citizens to provide necessary support, assistance and cooperation.

For such a complex and powerful document, the language and remit are worryingly broad and vague. The law itself only has 32 articles, compared to hundreds of articles and even more clauses of immensely precise text in other countries.

Considering the GSMA named Huawei as the winner of the associations ‘Outstanding Contribution to the Mobile Industry Award’ for 2018, everything that has taken place since the last event puts it in a difficult position. If the GSMA decides on a general policy of distancing its members from Huawei in anticipation of further bans, that would be a significant further blow to the Chinese vendor.

40 execs sign a pledge to make the internet a nice place

Industry lobby group the GSMA has launched its ‘digital declaration’, signed by executives from 40 technology firms and telcos, aiming to make the digital economy a safer place, accessible to all.

With the likes of Bharti Airtel, China Mobile, Sharp, SK Telecom and Vodafone signing the deal, the GSMA is embracing its hippy calling of peace, love and digitisation. The declaration pins the hopes and dreams of the industry onto several different principles, which theoretically should lead to a warm and embracing internet.

“Social, technological, political and economic currents are combining to create a perfect storm of disruption across all industries,” said Mats Granryd, Director General of the GSMA. “A new form of responsible leadership is needed to successfully navigate this era.

“We are on the cusp of the 5G era, which will spark exciting new possibilities for consumers and promises to transform the shape of virtually every business. In the face of this disruption, those that embrace the principles of the Digital Declaration will strive for business success in ways that seek a better future for their consumers and societies. Those that do not change can expect to suffer increasing scrutiny from shareholders, regulators and consumers.”

Looking at the principles themselves, they are relatively simple. Respect the privacy of digital citizens; handle personal data securely and transparently; take meaningful steps to mitigate cyber threats; and ensure everyone can participate in the digital economy as it develops whilst combatting online harassment. Its broad enough to allow wiggle room, but accurate enough to ensure all the right buzzwords are ticked off the list. You can have a look at the full declaration here.

While it is certainly a step in the right direction to get these organizations to sign a document recognising the importance of often ignored concepts such as inclusion and security, perhaps the next step should be to engage governments and regulators.

The CEOs of these technology and telco giants will certainly play an influential role in the success of the internet, though these are companies which will be playing within the rules set by higher powers. Policy, regulation, legislation and public funding will play an incredibly powerful part, though with such varied political regimes across the world, getting them to at least acknowledge these constant principles should be a priority.

Another interesting omission from the list are the powerful and influential internet players. The likes of Google, Amazon and Facebook will perhaps play a more significant role than the telcos and technology vendors who have already signed the document as they slip into the grey areas of regulation. The OTTs have been effectively doing what they like to date, such is the difficulty in matching regulation with the pace of change in this segment, and while such a document is little more than a PR ploy, it would at least demonstrate some accountability.

T-Mobile/Sprint merger finds a new enemy in mysterious lobby group

A new non-profit organization called ‘Protect America’s Wireless’ has emerged, seemingly with the sole objective of hurling spanners at the T-Mobile US and Sprint merger.

Details on the group are relatively thin at the moment, it was only founded last month, though a press call introducing the group and its mission statement on the website both seem to give the same message; the T-Mobile US and Sprint merger will be bad for the national security of the US.

“We must protect our networks from foreign spying,” the team announces on the websites homepage. “Our greatest concern is the pending Sprint T-Mobile merger, which could give countries like Saudi Arabia, China, Germany, and Japan direct access to our networks through the use of foreign-made networking equipment and billions of foreign money. We call on President Trump, Congress, and the FCC to protect American national security by denying these foreign interests access to America’s wireless communications.”

On the press call, David Wade, Founder of Greenlight Strategies, suggested a merger of the two telcos would open up the US to a Chinese ecosystem, while also suggesting any business working closely with Chinese vendors would effectively handover data to the Chinese government. While it is true Sprint owner Softbank has collaborated closely with Huawei and ZTE in the 5G R&D journey, this seems to be taking the conspiracy theory up another level. Deutsche Telekom, parent company of T-Mobile US, also has ties to Chinese vendors, but there aren’t many telcos who don’t.

The theory here is a merger between the two telcos would be bad for national security, effectively handing China a key to the backdoor. There have certainly been objections from a competition perspective, but this is the first we’ve seen with this angle. It’s difficult not to be suspicious about who the puppet master actually is.

Interestingly enough, the group has declined to discuss where funding is emerging from. As a 501c4 non-profit, the team do not have to disclose funding or ownership details, though they are permitted to attempt to influence politics as long as it isn’t their main area of focus. While the groups attempt to tackle US security is a thinly veiled attempt to demonstrate ‘social welfare’, as long as the group isn’t spending more than half of its funds on political-related activities, it can continue to operate half-hidden by shadows.

Finding out who is funding this organization is key to figure out what the angle is and whether this is yet another example of propaganda, though it is not necessarily a simple task. 501c4 non-profits have to complete a Form 990 for the IRS, on which any donations above $5,000 have to be disclosed. Unfortunately, due to the efficiency of the IRS, there is usually a 12-18 month lag on this information being made publicly available.

Until the influencers and donors of this group have been identified, this could be a very dangerous source of misinformation. Statements being made might very well be true, but without transparency it would be safe to be suspicious.