The escalating geopolitical tension between China and the US is threatening the security of the global supply chain. As COVID-19 rages worldwide, the role of telecom networks has heightened. 36Kr was invited to the webinar held by Total Telecom on June 18. This webinar brought in top global telecom experts, including Adrian Scrase, Head of the 3GPP Mobile Competence Centre and ETSI CTO, Luis Alveirinho, CTO of Altice Portugal, Sally Eaves, CTO of Forbes Technology Council, and Dimitris Mavrakis, Research Director of ABI Research. The topic of the webinar was how to ensure the resilience and stability of the global telecom supply chain.
The Trump administration announced a new rule on May 15, banning any foreign chipmakers from shipping chips with US software or technology to Huawei without a license granted by the US Department of Commerce. This move may cut ties between Huawei and its chip suppliers, who provide the chips it uses for cellular base stations, servers, and smartphones.
36Kr believes that the new rule will disrupt the entire semiconductor industry and may bring down the global supply chain. This would cause economic loss, and even slow down technological advancements.
“We need suppliers to better support our business operations,” said Altice Portugal CTO Luis Alveirinho, on behalf of telecom carriers serving enterprises and consumers. Alveirinho added, “We now live in a global village where the supply chain has become more globalized and fragmented. We need to rely on technological standardization to unite more partners across the global supply chain.”
“Many CIOs and CTOs have expressed their pressure in the discussion,” said ABI Research Director Dimitris Mavrakis. “The problem facing carriers is that besides technology and commercial factors, they have to consider other factors when selecting suppliers. This may cause delay in 5G rollouts.”
As someone who is deeply involved in standards development, Adrian Scrase believes that politically-driven restrictions on certain players are the “most pressing risk”, which may have “catastrophic” consequences. “If we are subject to such restrictions, then we won’t be able to use the best technologies to serve people’s interests.”
According to Sally Eaves, the impact of geopolitics on the telecom industry will be harmful both now and in the future. “The intervention of geopolitics in the semiconductor industry will not only affect 5G deployment,” she said, “What’s worse, it will delay the digital transformation of industries, widen the digital divide, and even affect the production of medical equipment like ventilators to deal with the pandemic.”
Strategy Analytics’ report suggests, “Escalating trade sanctions against Huawei and China will have ruinous consequences on the global telecom and semiconductor industries, as well as the US economy. This is especially true in tandem with the present COVID-19 global economic slowdown.”
According to Teletime, Luiz Alberto Garcia, Chairman of the Board of Directors at Algar Telecom said that, banning certain 5G suppliers in Brazil would be a “huge mistake”. Garcia noted that “excluding a supplier that holds nearly 50% of the market share and has a global presence and outstanding technology expertise” from competition may increase the price of 5G, and will eventually hurt the interests of users. He is clearly referring to Huawei here.
While the US is targeting Huawei out of geopolitical motives, many carriers from Germany, France, and other European countries have proactively spoken out in support of Huawei. These carriers included the world’s second largest mobile carrier Vodafone Group Plc and telecom service provider Telefonica Brasil.
“The UK’s leadership in 5G will be lost if mobile operators are forced to spend time and money replacing existing equipment,” Scott Petty, Vodafone UK’s chief technology officer, told Reuters in an emailed statement.
This suggests that carriers in many countries have realized the role that Huawei plays in Europe’s 5G deployment, which is attributable to its expertise and patents in 5G, as well as the mutual trust it has built with European carriers over decades. 36Kr estimates that 5G will benefit up to 40 million people in Germany by mid-July, thanks to Huawei’s innovative technologies, spectrum coordination, reasonable tariffs, and new 5G smartphones.