Canada’s upgrade to 5G represents much more than faster cell phone speeds: the enhanced capabilities are a quantum leap forward and will define the future “Internet of Things”. The issue is also a geopolitical one, with countries taking sides over which companies should be allowed to install the next generation of the internet. With this article, we’ll outline a basic understanding of what 5G is and what it means for Canada.
Faster Speeds are just the Tip of the Iceberg
With internet traffic and the number of interconnected devices increasing, our current system will simply not be able to sustain the additional load in coming years. For that reason alone, 5G is necessary if Canada wants to keep pace with the world.
Along with greatly increased capacity for data transfer and overall speed, 5G brings a generation defining advantage: dramatically lower latency. Latency is the time it takes for two devices to communicate with each other. This is critical for new technologies requiring instantaneous communication, like driverless cars processing road information, or swarms of drones for search and rescue.
In one of the greatest examples of how ground-breaking lower latency will be, remote brain surgery using a robot was successfully accomplished, with patient and surgeon 1,500 miles apart. This would have been impossible without the practically real-time feedback of 5G.
5G’s Economic Impacts
This infographic is a great starting point, showing the economic benefits of 5G for countries around the world. Those who don’t adopt it, or are too slow, will be left behind. For Canada specifically, the 5G Canada Council estimates $40 billion added to GDP every year starting in 2026, and 250,000 jobs. The source of this information, including a much more in-depth analysis beyond the scope of this article, can be found here.
Lastly, the sooner a country installs 5G infrastructure, the sooner they’ll be able to develop the next generation of wireless technology, and gain an advantage over competitors.
Huawei and Worldwide 5G Rollout
The three main competitors for 5G infrastructure are Huawei (a Chinese company), Ericsson (Swedish), and Nokia (Finnish).
Long story short, Huawei’s gear is the best and the cheapest. However, because it is a Chinese company, there is speculation it could be used for backdoor spying, or leveraged by a government many regard as a bad actor.
Although Huawei denies a connection to the Chinese government, it is important to note that “Chinese companies are required by law to comply with requests from the Chinese governments to spy for it”.
This article contains a variety of opinions on the matter: from there being no hard evidence of spying, to any Chinese company needing to be treated with suspicion, to 5G networks having to be secured from end to end regardless of who supplies the hardware.
The US has accused Huawei of various counts of corporate espionage, with a fresh list of indictments delivered in February of this year, and no verdicts yet. Huawei has so far pleaded not guilty to the 2019 indictments. Along with these allegations, the US has been pressing countries to ban Huawei from their 5G networks all around the world.
Where do our other allies stand? Currently, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand have banned Huawei. The EU has stated “EU countries can restrict or ban high-risk 5G vendors from core parts of their telecoms networks”, and the UK has allowed Huawei only into the periphery of its 5G network.
What this Means for Canada
Without question, Canada needs to make progress on 5G. Failing to do so will cost us revenue, jobs, and the prestige of being at the forefront of modern technology.
Rogers has begun to roll out 5G equipment supplied by Ericsson, with small networks in downtown Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa, and Montreal. Bell and Telus are waiting on a decision from the government about whether or not they can use Huawei.
The decision is complicated by both the US and China waging threats against Canada. Canada’s decision could also affect its role in the 5 Eyes intelligence sharing alliance (Canada, US, UK, Australia, and New Zealand), since three of the countries have already banned Huawei from their 5G network. The UK is an exception, having allowed some Huawei 5G equipment in non-core infrastructure, as mentioned above.
Canada is currently looking into the security risks, and it is important to note that Telus already uses some Huawei equipment in its 4G network.
The question ultimately becomes: do we agree to use more affordable infrastructure at the expense of international partnerships, or do we ban Huawei from our 5G infrastructure, risk Chinese condemnation, pay for more expensive equipment, but stay on the good side of our traditional allies?
The US and China have postured against each other for years now, each side making moves to consolidate their global hegemony as China’s economic power rises. 5G is just the latest battleground. Some allies have ignored the US, while others have decided to independently determine their own technical risk.
Sooner or later, Canada needs to make a decision. Dragging this out will only hurt our global 5G potential.
Bear this in mind when talking about 5G: it is much more than a simple internet service upgrade.