huawei

UK report blasts Huawei for network security incompetence

Posted by | 5g, 5G network security, Asia, China, Ciaran Martin, computer security, cyberattack, cybercrime, ernst & young, Europe, european union, huawei, Mobile, National Cyber Security Centre, national security, Security, telecommunications, UK government, United Kingdom | No Comments

The latest report by a UK oversight body set up to evaluation Chinese networking giant Huawei’s approach to security has dialled up pressure on the company, giving a damning assessment of what it describes as “serious and systematic defects” in its software engineering and cyber security competence.

Although the report falls short of calling for an outright ban on Huawei equipment in domestic networks — an option U.S. president Trump continues dangling across the pond.

The report, prepared for the National Security Advisor of the UK by the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC) Oversight Board, also identifies new “significant technical issues” which it says lead to new risks for UK telecommunications networks using Huawei kit.

The HCSEC was set up by Huawei in 2010, under what the oversight board couches as “a set of arrangements with the UK government”, to provide information to state agencies on its products and strategies in order that security risks could be evaluated.

And last year, under pressure from UK security agencies concerned about technical deficiencies in its products, Huawei pledged to spend $2BN to try to address long-running concerns about its products in the country.

But the report throws doubt on its ability to address UK concerns — with the board writing that it has “not yet seen anything to give it confidence in Huawei’s capacity to successfully complete the elements of its transformation programme that it has proposed as a means of addressing these underlying defects”.

So it sounds like $2BN isn’t going to be nearly enough to fix Huawei’s security problem in just one European country.

The board also writes that it will require “sustained evidence” of better software engineering and cyber security “quality”, verified by HCSEC and the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), if there’s to be any possibility of it reaching a different assessment of the company’s ability to reboot its security credentials.

While another damning assessment contained in the report is that Huawei has made “no material progress” on issues raised by last year’s report.

All the issues identified by the security evaluation process relate to “basic engineering competence and cyber security hygiene”, which the board notes gives rise to vulnerabilities capable of being exploited by “a range of actors”.

It adds that the NCSC does not believe the defects found are a result of Chinese state interference.

This year’s report is the fifth the oversight board has produced since it was established in 2014, and it comes at a time of acute scrutiny for Huawei, as 5G network rollouts are ramping up globally — pushing governments to address head on suspicions attached to the Chinese giant and consider whether to trust it with critical next-gen infrastructure.

“The Oversight Board advises that it will be difficult to appropriately risk-manage future products in the context of UK deployments, until the underlying defects in Huawei’s software engineering and cyber security processes are remediated,” the report warns in one of several key conclusions that make very uncomfortable reading for Huawei.

“Overall, the Oversight Board can only provide limited assurance that all risks to UK national security from Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s critical networks can be sufficiently mitigated long-term,” it adds in summary.

Reached for its response to the report, a Huawei UK spokesperson sent us a statement in which it describes the $2BN earmarked for security improvements related to UK products as an “initial budget”.

It writes:

The 2019 OB [oversight board] report details some concerns about Huawei’s software engineering capabilities. We understand these concerns and take them very seriously. The issues identified in the OB report provide vital input for the ongoing transformation of our software engineering capabilities. In November last year Huawei’s Board of Directors issued a resolution to carry out a companywide transformation programme aimed at enhancing our software engineering capabilities, with an initial budget of US$2BN.

A high-level plan for the programme has been developed and we will continue to work with UK operators and the NCSC during its implementation to meet the requirements created as cloud, digitization, and software-defined everything become more prevalent. To ensure the ongoing security of global telecom networks, the industry, regulators, and governments need to work together on higher common standards for cyber security assurance and evaluation.

Seeking to find something positive to salvage from the report’s savaging, Huawei suggests it demonstrates the continued effectiveness of the HCSEC as a structure to evaluate and mitigate security risk — flagging a description where the board writes that it’s “arguably the toughest and most rigorous in the world”, and which Huawei claims shows at least there hasn’t been any increase in vulnerability of UK networks since the last report.

Though the report does identify new issues that open up fresh problems — albeit the underlying issues were presumably there last year too, just laying undiscovered.

The board’s withering assessment certainly amps up the pressure on Huawei which has been aggressively battling U.S.-led suspicion of its kit — claiming in a telecoms conference speech last month that “the U.S. security accusation of our 5G has no evidence”, for instance.

At the same time it has been appealing for the industry to work together to come up with collective processes for evaluating the security and trustworthiness of network kit.

And earlier this month it opened another cyber security transparency center — this time at the heart of Europe in Brussels, where the company has been lobbying policymakers to help establish security standards to foster collective trust. Though there’s little doubt that’s a long game.

Meanwhile, critics of Huawei can now point to impatience rising in the U.K., despite comments by the head of the NCSC, Ciaran Martin, last month — who said then that security agencies believe the risk of using Huawei kit can be managed, suggesting the government won’t push for an outright ban.

The report does not literally overturn that view but it does blast out a very loud and alarming warning about the difficulty for UK operators to “appropriately” risk-manage what’s branded defective and vulnerable Huawei kit. Including flagging the risk of future products — which the board suggests will be increasingly complex to manage. All of which could well just push operators to seek alternatives.

On the mitigation front, the board writes that — “in extremis” — the NCSC could order Huawei to carry out specific fixes for equipment currently installed in the UK. Though it also warns that such a step would be difficult, and could for example require hardware replacement which may not mesh with operators “natural” asset management and upgrades cycles, emphasizing it does not offer a sustainable solution to the underlying technical issues.

“Given both the shortfalls in good software engineering and cyber security practice and the currently unknown trajectory of Huawei’s R&D processes through their announced transformation plan, it is highly likely that security risk management of products that are new to the UK or new major releases of software for products currently in the UK will be more difficult,” the board writes in a concluding section discussing the UK national security risk.

“On the basis of the work already carried out by HCSEC, the NCSC considers it highly likely that there would be new software engineering and cyber security issues in products HCSEC has not yet examined.”

It also describes the number and severity of vulnerabilities plus architectural and build issues discovered by a relatively small team in the HCSEC as “a particular concern”.

“If an attacker has knowledge of these vulnerabilities and sufficient access to exploit them, they may be able to affect the operation of the network, in some cases causing it to cease operating correctly,” it warns. “Other impacts could include being able to access user traffic or reconfiguration of the network elements.”

In another section on mitigating risks of using Huawei kit, the board notes that “architectural controls” in place in most UK operators can limit the ability of attackers to exploit any vulnerable network elements not explicitly exposed to the public Internet — adding that such controls, combined with good opsec generally, will “remain critically important in the coming years to manage the residual risks caused by the engineering defects identified”.

In other highlights from the report the board does have some positive things to say, writing that an NCSC technical review of its capabilities showed improvements in 2018, while another independent audit of HCSEC’s ability to operate independently of Huawei HQ once again found “no high or medium priority findings”.

“The audit report identified one low-rated finding, relating to delivery of information and equipment within agreed Service Level Agreements. Ernst & Young concluded that there were no major concerns and the Oversight Board is satisfied that HCSEC is operating in line with the 2010 arrangements between HMG and the company,” it further notes.

Last month the European Commissioner said it was preparing to step in to ensure a “common approach” across the European Union where 5G network security is concerned — warning of the risk of fragmentation across the single market. Though it has so far steered clear of any bans.

Earlier this week it issued a set of recommendations for Member States, combining legislative and policy measures to assess 5G network security risks and help strengthen preventive measures.

Among the operational measures it suggests Member States take is to complete a national risk assessment of 5G network infrastructures by the end of June 2019, and follow that by updating existing security requirements for network providers — including conditions for ensuring the security of public networks.

“These measures should include reinforced obligations on suppliers and operators to ensure the security of the networks,” it recommends. “The national risk assessments and measures should consider various risk factors, such as technical risks and risks linked to the behaviour of suppliers or operators, including those from third countries. National risk assessments will be a central element towards building a coordinated EU risk assessment.”  

At an EU level the Commission said Member States should share information on network security, saying this “coordinated work should support Member States’ actions at national level and provide guidance to the Commission for possible further steps at EU level” — leaving the door open for further action.

While the EU’s executive body has not pushed for a pan-EU ban on any 5G vendors it did restate Member States’ right to exclude companies from their markets for national security reasons if they fail to comply with their own standards and legal framework.

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Xiaomi teases another look at its foldable phone

Posted by | Asia, foldables, hardware, huawei, Mobile, mobile phones, Samsung, smartphones, TC, telecommunications, Xiaomi | No Comments

Xiaomi is back with another teaser of the foldable concept device it first showed off in January.

This time around, in a video posted to its Weibo account, the Chinese company showed off the device working in tablet mode and, after folding, regular phone mode to illustrate how seamlessly it can be tucked up and put away… in this case atop a cup of noodles.

Video: hat tip The Verge

Xiaomi has said it is developing a device — the previous video included a call-out for ideas and feedback — so the project isn’t likely as advanced as soon-to-launch products from Samsung, Huawei or lesser-known Chinese brand Royole.

Unlike those three, Xiaomi’s offers two foldable edges instead of just one. That would appear to present a much tougher challenge in terms of design and logistics, but this new teaser (and there’s no doubt Xiaomi chose it carefully) seems to show impressive results. The phone folds nicely in terms of hardware and software, but you’d imagine those edges will make it thicker than others.

It’s all ifs and buts for now, though, since Xiaomi isn’t giving up details of what this product might become… or even whether it will become one at all. But Xiaomi being Xiaomi, you’d imagine that when it does drop, it won’t just be the two folds that set it apart from the rest. The Chinese firm is massively price-sensitive, so you can expect that it’ll price any foldable phone it releases much lower than the $2,000 or so that Samsung and Huawei are asking for their gen-one efforts.

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Huawei announces smart glasses in partnership with Gentle Monster

Posted by | connected glasses, Gadgets, Gentle Monster, huawei, Mobile, SMART Glasses | No Comments

Huawei is launching connected glasses in partnership with Gentle Monster, a Korean sunglasses and optical glasses brand. There won’t be a single model, but a collection of glasses with integrated electronics.

Huawei is positioning the glasses as a sort of earbuds replacement, a device that lets you talk on the phone without putting anything in your ears. There’s no button on the device, but you can tap the temple of the glasses to answer a call for instance.

The antenna, charging module, dual microphone, chipset, speaker and battery are all integrated in the eyeglass temple. There are two microphones with beam-forming technology to understand what you’re saying even if the device is sitting on your nose.

There are stereo speakers positioned right above your ears. The company wants you to hear sound without disturbing your neighbors.

Interestingly, there’s no camera on the device. Huawei wants to avoid any privacy debate by skipping the camera altogether. Given that people have no issue with voice assistants and being surrounded by microphones, maybe people won’t be too suspicious.

The glasses come in a leather case with USB-C port at the bottom. It features wireless charging as well. Huawei teased the glasses at the P30 press conference in Paris, but the glasses won’t be available before July 2019.

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Huawei unveils the P30 and P30 Pro

Posted by | Gadgets, hardware, huawei, Huawei P30, Huawei P30 Pro, Mobile, P30, P30 Pro, smartphones | No Comments

Huawei unveiled its brand new flagship phone — the P30 and the P30 Pro — at a press conference today in Paris. In many ways, this year’s update is a continuation of the P20 series — but everything has been upgraded. I played with both devices for a bit; here’s my experience.

While Huawei’s sub-brand Honor has switched to a hole-punch design, Huawei is keeping the good old notch for its flagship device. But this year’s notch is a lot smaller. The company has switched from an iPhone X-like notch to a tiny little teardrop notch.

The P20 and P20 Pro were the last flagship phones to feature a fingerprint sensor below the display, on the front of the device. With the P30 series, Huawei is removing that odd-looking bezel and integrating the fingerprint sensor in the display.

The company could have used that opportunity to make the phones smaller. But Huawei opted for taller displays instead. The P20 and P20 Pro had 5.8-inch and 6.1-inch displays, respectively, with an 18.7:9 aspect ratio. The P30 and P30 Pro have gigantic 6.1-inch and 6.47-inch displays, respectively, with a 19.5:9 aspect ratio.

The P30 Pro is still narrower than the iPhone XR, but it won’t be for everyone. It definitely feels too big in my hand, for instance.

The industrial design of the P30 series is in line with the P20 series. The phones feature glass on the back with colorful gradients. The frame is made of aluminum. Overall, the devices feel slimmer on the edges thanks to curved back and front glass. The company has flattened the top and bottom edges of the devices as well. Everything feels solid in your hand.

The P30 and P30 Pro are now closer when it comes to features. They both have an OLED display with a 2340×1080 resolution for instance. You no longer have to choose between an LCD and an OLED display.

The two biggest differences you can spot is that the P30 Pro has a Samsung-style display, slightly curved on the sides — the P30 display is completely flat — and Huawei is bringing back the headphone jack, but only for the P30. It doesn’t really make sense to segment the lineup this way, but maybe Huawei considers you have enough money to buy wireless earbuds if you’re in the market for a P30 Pro.

Both devices come in five colors — Breathing Crystal, Amber Sunrise, Perl White, Black and Aurora. Amber Sunrise is a red to orange gradient color, Breathing Crystal is a white-to-purple gradient, Perl White is a white-to-slightly pink gradient, Aurora is a blue-to-turquoise gradient.

You’ll be able to buy the P30 for €799 ($900) with 128GB of storage and the P30 Pro for €999 ($1,130) for 128GB of storage — there are more expensive options for the P30 Pro with more storage. The phones will be available in Europe and Asia today, and probably won’t be released in the U.S.

Four camera sensors, because why not

When it comes to cameras, Huawei has always been one of the leading smartphone manufacturers. There are only four brands that ship cameras that perform so well — Apple, Samsung, Google and Huawei.

It’s going to be hard to comment on the quality of the photos after so little hands-on time, but the P30 Pro now features not one, not two, not three but f-o-u-r sensors on the back of the device.

  • The main camera is a 40 MP 27mm sensor with an f/1.6 aperture and optical image stabilization.
  • There’s a 20 MP ultra-wide angle lens (16mm) with an f/2.2 aperture.
  • The 8 MP telephoto lens provides nearly 5x optical zoom compared to the main lens (125mm) with an f/3.4 aperture and optical image stabilization.
  • There’s a new time-of-flight sensor below the flash of the P30 Pro. The phone projects infrared light and captures the reflection with this new sensor.

Thanks to the new time-of-flight sensor, Huawei promises better bokeh effects with a new depth map. The company also combines the main camera sensor with the telephoto sensor to let you capture photos with a 10x zoom with a hybrid digital-optical zoom.

The telephoto lens uses a periscope design. It means that the sensor features a glass to beam the light at a right angle. Huawei uses that method to avoid making the phone too thick.

On the P30, the cameras are more or less the same, but a bit worse:

  • A 40 MP main sensor with an f/1.8 aperture and optical image stabilization.
  • A 16 MP ultra-wide angle lens with an f/2.2 aperture.
  • An 8 MP telephoto lens that should provide 3x optical zoom.
  • No time-of-flight sensor.

More than hardware specifications, Huawei says that software has been greatly improved to enhance the quality of your photos. In particular, night mode should be much better thanks to optical and software-enabled stabilization. HDR shots and portrait photos should look better too.

On the front of the device, the selfie camera sensor has been upgraded from 24 MP to 32 MP. And you can capture HDR and low-light photos from the front camera as well.

Below the surface

Huawei has upgraded its homemade system-on-a-chip with the Kirin 980 that you can find in the Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro. It runs Android Pie 9.1 with Huawei’s EMUI custom Android user interface.

In addition to 40W USB-C charging, Huawei is integrating wireless charging for the first time in the P series (up to 15W). The P30 Pro has a 4,200 mAh battery. You can also charge other devices with reverse wireless charging, just like on the Samsung Galaxy S10.

The P30 Pro is IP68 water and dust resistant while the P30 is IP53 resistant.

You won’t find a speaker grill at the top of the P30 Pro because the company has removed the speaker. Instead, Huawei is vibrating the screen in order to turn the screen into a tiny speaker for your calls.

A note on the Huawei FreeLace wireless earphones

Huawei is also launching new in-ear earbuds today. The FreeLace looks more or less like the BeatsX with a cord behind your neck. You can disconnect the cord and plug your wireless earphones directly into your smartphone to pair them — no Bluetooth pairing required.

That hidden USB-C port is also how you’re going to charge the earbuds. For five minutes of charge time you get four hours worth of playback. They’ll be available in four colors — Graphite Black, Amber Sunrise, Emerald Green and Moonlight Silver.

The earbuds are magnetic so you can wrap them around your neck. When you disconnect them, it automatically answers your calls, play your music. When you connect them again, it hangs up or pauses your music. The FreeLace earbuds will be a separate accessory for €99.

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This is what the Huawei P30 will look like

Posted by | Gadgets, huawei, Mobile, rumor, smartphones | No Comments

You can already find many leaked photos of Huawei’s next flagship device — the P30 and P30 Pro. The company is set to announce the new product at an event in Paris next week. So here’s what you should expect.

Reliable phone leaker Evan Blass tweeted many different photos of the new devices in three different tweets:

pic.twitter.com/nIlhxby1Ah

— Evan Blass (@evleaks) March 20, 2019

As you can see, both devices feature three cameras on the back of the device. The notch is getting smaller and now looks like a teardrop. Compared to the P20 and P20 Pro, the fingerprint sensor is gone. It looks like Huawei is going to integrate the fingerprint sensor in the display just like Samsung did with the Samsung Galaxy S10.

Also, mysmartprice shared some ads with some specifications. The P30 Pro will have a 10x hybrid zoom while the P30 will have a 5x hybrid zoom — it’s unclear how it’ll work to combine a hardware zoom with a software zoom. Huawei has been doing some good work on the camera front, so this is going to be a key part of next week’s presentation.

For the first time, Huawei will put wireless charging in its flagship device — it’s about time. And it looks like the P30 Pro will adopt a curved display for the first time, as well. I’ll be covering the event next week, so stay tuned.

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Huawei has built an Android alternative in case US tensions increase

Posted by | Android, Apps, Google, huawei | No Comments

Tensions between the U.S. and Huawei show no sign of easing. Last week, the electronics giant announced that it has filed a lawsuit against the government over an “unconstitutional” ban on its products. Meanwhile, earlier this week, the U.S. threatened German intelligence over the country’s use of Huawei 5G products.

The company has understandably been prepping for a further downturn in relations by building its own in-house alternative to Android. The backup was noted by Huawei mobile head Richard Yu, following a year of rumors around the mobile OS.

“We have prepared our own operating system; if it turns out we can no longer use [Android], we will be ready and have our plan B,” the exec said.

Huawei began building the software in earnest after a U.S. ban on ZTE. The use of software and hardware from U.S. companies like Google and Qualcomm in Chinese smartphones has led to increasing tariffs on both sides.

In addition to concerns over ties to the Chinese government, Huawei has also been hit over its alleged skirting of Iranian tariffs. That landed the company’s CFO Meng Wanzhou in a Canadian jail. Of course, all of this hasn’t slowed Huawei’s global growth. The company saw a 50 percent jump in revenue in spite of mounting concerns.

We’ve reached out to Huawei for further confirmation.

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US threatens to reduce intelligence sharing if Germany doesn’t ban Huawei

Posted by | 5g, China, european commission, Germany, Government, huawei, Mobile, mobile network, Security, telecommunications, U.S. government | No Comments

The U.S. government is threatening to reduce the amount of intelligence it shares with Germany if Huawei wins a contract to build the country’s next-generation 5G network.

That’s the takeaway from a letter sent by the U.S. ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, to Germany’s economics minister Peter Altmaier, as reported by The Wall Street Journal. Grenell, appointed by President Trump last year, said the U.S. would not be able to continue sharing the same level or amount of classified intelligence over fears of Chinese spying.

It comes just days after Germany’s federal cybersecurity agency announced its 5G security requirements, but did not outright ban Huawei from the contract-bidding process.

It’s the latest move — if not a significant escalation — by the Trump administration to pressure its allies into dropping the Chinese networking gear maker over its links to the Chinese military.

The U.S.’ anti-Huawei cabal has so far seen CanadaAustraliaNew Zealand, Japan and most of Europe drop plans to use Huawei gear, which governments and phone networks have said is both cheap and reliable, but necessary for the anticipated explosion in 5G interest.

But Germany has — like the British — seen little conclusive evidence to show that Beijing is behind the scenes pulling the strings — only that the company could be compelled to spy in the future once use of the technology has been firmly established.

Korbinian Wagner, a spokesperson for the German ministry for economic affairs, confirmed the receipt of the letter but declined to comment on its contents.

The Department of State did not respond to requests for comment.

The U.S. and Germany have worked to try to repair their intelligence sharing relationship following the Edward Snowden disclosures after allegations that the National Security Agency was caught tapping into the phone of German chancellor Angela Merkel. Germany is one of dozens of countries that obtain classified signals intelligence from the U.S. intelligence community, as both a member of NATO and the so-called 14 Eyes alliance of European countries, which rely on the data sharing alliance for counterterrorism efforts. Germany suffered several terrorist attacks in the past two years, most of which inspired by Kurdish extremists and supporters of the so-called Islamic State.

The European Commission is set to rule on a potential bloc-wide ban of Huawei gear in the coming weeks, per reports.

Meanwhile, Germany is expected to launch its 5G spectrum as early as next week, sparking the beginning of the country’s first foray into the next-generation mobile network.

Updated with response from German government,

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Huawei opens a cybersecurity transparency center in the heart of Europe

Posted by | 5g, Asia, Brussels, China, computer security, cybersecurity, EC, Europe, General Data Protection Regulation, huawei, Internet of Things, Mobile, Network Security, Security, telecommunications | No Comments

5G kit maker Huawei opened a Cyber Security Transparency center in Brussels yesterday as the Chinese tech giant continues to try to neutralize suspicion in Western markets that its networking gear could be used for espionage by the Chinese state.

Huawei announced its plan to open a European transparency center last year but giving a speech at an opening ceremony for the center yesterday the company’s rotating CEO, Ken Hu, said: “Looking at the events from the past few months, it’s clear that this facility is now more critical than ever.”

Huawei said the center, which will demonstrate the company’s security solutions in areas including 5G, IoT and cloud, aims to provide a platform to enhance communication and “joint innovation” with all stakeholders, as well as providing a “technical verification and evaluation platform for our
customers”.

“Huawei will work with industry partners to explore and promote the development of security standards and verification mechanisms, to facilitate technological innovation in cyber security across the industry,” it said in a press release.

“To build a trustworthy environment, we need to work together,” Hu also said in his speech. “Both trust and distrust should be based on facts, not feelings, not speculation, and not baseless rumour.

“We believe that facts must be verifiable, and verification must be based on standards. So, to start, we need to work together on unified standards. Based on a common set of standards, technical verification and legal verification can lay the foundation for building trust. This must be a collaborative effort, because no single vendor, government, or telco operator can do it alone.”

The company made a similar plea at Mobile World Congress last week when its rotating chairman, Guo Ping, used a keynote speech to claim its kit is secure and will never contain backdoors. He also pressed the telco industry to work together on creating standards and structures to enable trust.

“Government and the mobile operators should work together to agree what this assurance testing and certification rating for Europe will be,” he urged. “Let experts decide whether networks are safe or not.”

Also speaking at MWC last week the EC’s digital commissioner, Mariya Gabriel, suggested the executive is prepared to take steps to prevent security concerns at the EU Member State level from fragmenting 5G rollouts across the Single Market.

She told delegates at the flagship industry conference that Europe must have “a common approach to this challenge” and “we need to bring it on the table soon”.

Though she did not suggest exactly how the Commission might act.

A spokesman for the Commission confirmed that EC VP Andrus Ansip and Huawei’s Hu met in person yesterday to discuss issues around cybersecurity, 5G and the Digital Single Market — adding that the meeting was held at the request of Hu.

“The Vice-President emphasised that the EU is an open rules based market to all players who fulfil EU rules,” the spokesman told us. “Specific concerns by European citizens should be addressed. We have rules in place which address security issues. We have EU procurement rules in place, and we have the investment screening proposal to protect European interests.”

“The VP also mentioned the need for reciprocity in respective market openness,” he added, further noting: “The College of the European Commission will hold today an orientation debate on China where this issue will come back.”

In a tweet following the meeting Ansip also said: “Agreed that understanding local security concerns, being open and transparent, and cooperating with countries and regulators would be preconditions for increasing trust in the context of 5G security.”

Met with @Huawei rotating CEO Ken Hu to discuss #5G and #cybersecurity.

Agreed that understanding local security concerns, being open and transparent, and cooperating with countries and regulators would be preconditions for increasing trust in the context of 5G security. pic.twitter.com/ltATdnnzvL

— Andrus Ansip (@Ansip_EU) March 4, 2019

Reuters reports Hu saying the pair had discussed the possibility of setting up a cybersecurity standard along the lines of Europe’s updated privacy framework, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Although the Commission did not respond when we asked it to confirm that discussion point.

GDPR was multiple years in the making and before European institutions had agreed on a final text that could come into force. So if the Commission is keen to act “soon” — per Gabriel’s comments on 5G security — to fashion supportive guardrails for next-gen network rollouts a full blown regulation seems an unlikely template.

More likely GDPR is being used by Huawei as a byword for creating consensus around rules that work across an ecosystem of many players by providing standards that different businesses can latch on in an effort to keep moving.

Hu referenced GDPR directly in his speech yesterday, lauding it as “a shining example” of Europe’s “strong experience in driving unified standards and regulation” — so the company is clearly well-versed in how to flatter hosts.

“It sets clear standards, defines responsibilities for all parties, and applies equally to all companies operating in Europe,” he went on. “As a result, GDPR has become the golden standard for privacy protection around the world. We believe that European regulators can also lead the way on similar mechanisms for cyber security.”

Hu ended his speech with a further industry-wide plea, saying: “We also commit to working more closely with all stakeholders in Europe to build a system of trust based on objective facts and verification. This is the cornerstone of a secure digital environment for all.”

Huawei’s appetite to do business in Europe is not in doubt, though.

The question is whether Europe’s telcos and governments can be convinced to swallow any doubts they might have about spying risks and commit to working with the Chinese kit giant as they roll out a new generation of critical infrastructure.

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5G phones are here but there’s no rush to upgrade

Posted by | 5g, Android, Apple, Asia, barcelona, broadband, Caching, China, deutsche telekom, donovan sung, Europe, european commission, european union, huawei, Intel, Internet of Things, iPhone, LG, Mobile, mwc 2019, Qualcomm, Samsung, singtel, smartphone, smartphones, south korea, TC, telecommunications, Xiaomi | No Comments

This year’s Mobile World Congress — the CES for Android device makers — was awash with 5G handsets.

The world’s No.1 smartphone seller by marketshare, Samsung, got out ahead with a standalone launch event in San Francisco, showing off two 5G devices, just before fast-following Android rivals popped out their own 5G phones at launch events across Barcelona this week.

We’ve rounded up all these 5G handset launches here. Prices range from an eye-popping $2,600 for Huawei’s foldable phabet-to-tablet Mate X — and an equally eye-watering $1,980 for Samsung’s Galaxy Fold; another 5G handset that bends — to a rather more reasonable $680 for Xiaomi’s Mi Mix 3 5G, albeit the device is otherwise mid-tier. Other prices for 5G phones announced this week remain tbc.

Android OEMs are clearly hoping the hype around next-gen mobile networks can work a little marketing magic and kick-start stalled smartphone growth. Especially with reports suggesting Apple won’t launch a 5G iPhone until at least next year. So 5G is a space Android OEMs alone get to own for a while.

Chipmaker Qualcomm, which is embroiled in a bitter patent battle with Apple, was also on stage in Barcelona to support Xiaomi’s 5G phone launch — loudly claiming the next-gen tech is coming fast and will enhance “everything”.

“We like to work with companies like Xiaomi to take risks,” lavished Qualcomm’s president Cristiano Amon upon his hosts, using 5G uptake to jibe at Apple by implication. “When we look at the opportunity ahead of us for 5G we see an opportunity to create winners.”

Despite the heavy hype, Xiaomi’s on stage demo — which it claimed was the first live 5G video call outside China — seemed oddly staged and was not exactly lacking in latency.

“Real 5G — not fake 5G!” finished Donovan Sung, the Chinese OEM’s director of product management. As a 5G sales pitch it was all very underwhelming. Much more ‘so what’ than ‘must have’.

Whether 5G marketing hype alone will convince consumers it’s past time to upgrade seems highly unlikely.

Phones sell on features rather than connectivity per se, and — whatever Qualcomm claims — 5G is being soft-launched into the market by cash-constrained carriers whose boom times lie behind them, i.e. before over-the-top players had gobbled their messaging revenues and monopolized consumer eyeballs.

All of which makes 5G an incremental consumer upgrade proposition in the near to medium term.

Use-cases for the next-gen network tech, which is touted as able to support speeds up to 100x faster than LTE and deliver latency of just a few milliseconds (as well as connecting many more devices per cell site), are also still being formulated, let alone apps and services created to leverage 5G.

But selling a network upgrade to consumers by claiming the killer apps are going to be amazing but you just can’t show them any yet is as tough as trying to make theatre out of a marginally less janky video call.

“5G could potentially help [spark smartphone growth] in a couple of years as price points lower, and availability expands, but even that might not see growth rates similar to the transition to 3G and 4G,” suggests Carolina Milanesi, principal analyst at Creative Strategies, writing in a blog post discussing Samsung’s strategy with its latest device launches.

“This is not because 5G is not important, but because it is incremental when it comes to phones and it will be other devices that will deliver on experiences, we did not even think were possible. Consumers might end up, therefore, sharing their budget more than they did during the rise of smartphones.”

The ‘problem’ for 5G — if we can call it that — is that 4G/LTE networks are capably delivering all the stuff consumers love right now: Games, apps and video. Which means that for the vast majority of consumers there’s simply no reason to rush to shell out for a ‘5G-ready’ handset. Not if 5G is all the innovation it’s got going for it.

LG V50 ThinQ 5G with a dual screen accessory for gaming

Use cases such as better AR/VR are also a tough sell given how weak consumer demand has generally been on those fronts (with the odd branded exception).

The barebones reality is that commercial 5G networks are as rare as hen’s teeth right now, outside a few limited geographical locations in the U.S. and Asia. And 5G will remain a very patchy patchwork for the foreseeable future.

Indeed, it may take a very long time indeed to achieve nationwide coverage in many countries, if 5G even ends up stretching right to all those edges. (Alternative technologies do also exist which could help fill in gaps where the ROI just isn’t there for 5G.)

So again consumers buying phones with the puffed up idea of being able to tap into 5G right here, right now (Qualcomm claimed 2019 is going to be “the year of 5G!”) will find themselves limited to just a handful of urban locations around the world.

Analysts are clear that 5G rollouts, while coming, are going to be measured and targeted as carriers approach what’s touted as a multi-industry-transforming wireless technology cautiously, with an eye on their capex and while simultaneously trying to figure out how best to restructure their businesses to engage with all the partners they’ll need to forge business relations with, across industries, in order to successfully sell 5G’s transformative potential to all sorts of enterprises — and lock onto “the sweep spot where 5G makes sense”.

Enterprise rollouts therefore look likely to be prioritized over consumer 5G — as was the case for 5G launches in South Korea at the back end of last year.

“4G was a lot more driven by the consumer side and there was an understanding that you were going for national coverage that was never really a question and you were delivering on the data promise that 3G never really delivered… so there was a gap of technology that needed to be filled. With 5G it’s much less clear,” says Gartner’s Sylvain Fabre, discussing the tech’s hype and the reality with TechCrunch ahead of MWC.

“4G’s very good, you have multiple networks that are Gbps or more and that’s continuing to increase on the downlink with multiple carrier aggregation… and other densification schemes. So 5G doesn’t… have as gap as big to fill. It’s great but again it’s applicability of where it’s uniquely positioned is kind of like a very narrow niche at the moment.”

“It’s such a step change that the real power of 5G is actually in creating new business models using network slicing — allocation of particular aspects of the network to a particular use-case,” Forrester analyst Dan Bieler also tells us. “All of this requires some rethinking of what connectivity means for an enterprise customer or for the consumer.

“And telco sales people, the telco go-to-market approach is not based on selling use-cases, mostly — it’s selling technologies. So this is a significant shift for the average telco distribution channel to go through. And I would believe this will hold back a lot of the 5G ambitions for the medium term.”

To be clear, carriers are now actively kicking the tyres of 5G, after years of lead-in hype, and grappling with technical challenges around how best to upgrade their existing networks to add in and build out 5G.

Many are running pilots and testing what works and what doesn’t, such as where to place antennas to get the most reliable signal and so on. And a few have put a toe in the water with commercial launches (globally there are 23 networks with “some form of live 5G in their commercial networks” at this point, according to Fabre.)

But at the same time 5G network standards are yet to be fully finalized so the core technology is not 100% fully baked. And with it being early days “there’s still a long way to go before we have a real significant impact of 5G type of services”, as Bieler puts it. 

There’s also spectrum availability to factor in and the cost of acquiring the necessary spectrum. As well as the time required to clear and prepare it for commercial use. (On spectrum, government policy is critical to making things happen quickly (or not). So that’s yet another factor moderating how quickly 5G networks can be built out.)

And despite some wishful thinking industry noises at MWC this week — calling for governments to ‘support digitization at scale’ by handing out spectrum for free (uhhhh, yeah right) — that’s really just whistling into the wind.

Rolling out 5G networks is undoubtedly going to be very expensive, at a time when carriers’ businesses are already faced with rising costs (from increasing data consumption) and subdued revenue growth forecasts.

“The world now works on data” and telcos are “at core of this change”, as one carrier CEO — Singtel’s Chua Sock Koong — put it in an MWC keynote in which she delved into the opportunities and challenges for operators “as we go from traditional connectivity to a new age of intelligent connectivity”.

Chua argued it will be difficult for carriers to compete “on the basis of connectivity alone” — suggesting operators will have to pivot their businesses to build out standalone business offerings selling all sorts of b2b services to support the digital transformations of other industries as part of the 5G promise — and that’s clearly going to suck up a lot of their time and mind for the foreseeable future.

In Europe alone estimates for the cost of rolling out 5G range between €300BN and €500BN (~$340BN-$570BN), according to Bieler. Figures that underline why 5G is going to grow slowly, and networks be built out thoughtfully; in the b2b space this means essentially on a case-by-case basis.

Simply put carriers must make the economics stack up. Which means no “huge enormous gambles with 5G”. And omnipresent ROI pressure pushing them to try to eke out a premium.

“A lot of the network equipment vendors have turned down the hype quite a bit,” Bieler continues. “If you compare this to the hype around 3G many years ago or 4G a couple of years ago 5G definitely comes across as a soft launch. Sort of an evolutionary type of technology. I have not come across a network equipment vendors these days who will say there will be a complete change in everything by 2020.”

On the consumer pricing front, carriers have also only just started to grapple with 5G business models. One early example is TC parent Verizon’s 5G home service — which positions the next-gen wireless tech as an alternative to fixed line broadband with discounts if you opt for a wireless smartphone data plan as well as 5G broadband.

From the consumer point of view, the carrier 5G business model conundrum boils down to: What is my carrier going to charge me for 5G? And early adopters of any technology tend to get stung on that front.

Although, in mobile, price premiums rarely stick around for long as carriers inexorably find they must ditch premiums to unlock scale — via consumer-friendly ‘all you can eat’ price plans.

Still, in the short term, carriers look likely to experiment with 5G pricing and bundles — basically seeing what they can make early adopters pay. But it’s still far from clear that people will pay a premium for better connectivity alone. And that again necessitates caution. 

5G bundled with exclusive content might be one way carriers try to extract a premium from consumers. But without huge and/or compelling branded content inventory that risks being a too niche proposition too. And the more carriers split their 5G offers the more consumers might feel they don’t need to bother, and end up sticking with 4G for longer.

It’ll also clearly take time for a 5G ‘killer app’ to emerge in the consumer space. And such an app would likely need to still be able to fallback on 4G, again to ensure scale. So the 5G experience will really need to be compellingly different in order for the tech to sell itself.

On the handset side, 5G chipset hardware is also still in its first wave. At MWC this week Qualcomm announced a next-gen 5G modem, stepping up from last year’s Snapdragon 855 chipset — which it heavily touted as architected for 5G (though it doesn’t natively support 5G).

If you’re intending to buy and hold on to a 5G handset for a few years there’s thus a risk of early adopter burn at the chipset level — i.e. if you end up with a device with a suckier battery life vs later iterations of 5G hardware where more performance kinks have been ironed out.

Intel has warned its 5G modems won’t be in phones until next year — so, again, that suggests no 5G iPhones before 2020. And Apple is of course a great bellwether for mainstream consumer tech; the company only jumps in when it believes a technology is ready for prime time, rarely sooner. And if Cupertino feels 5G can wait, that’s going to be equally true for most consumers.

Zooming out, the specter of network security (and potential regulation) now looms very large indeed where 5G is concerned, thanks to East-West trade tensions injecting a strange new world of geopolitical uncertainty into an industry that’s never really had to grapple with this kind of business risk before.

Chinese kit maker Huawei’s rotating chairman, Guo Ping, used the opportunity of an MWC keynote to defend the company and its 5G solutions against U.S. claims its network tech could be repurposed by the Chinese state as a high tech conduit to spy on the West — literally telling delegates: “We don’t do bad things” and appealing to them to plainly to: “Please choose Huawei!”

Huawei rotating resident, Guo Ping, defends the security of its network kit on stage at MWC 2019

When established technology vendors are having to use a high profile industry conference to plead for trust it’s strange and uncertain times indeed.

In Europe it’s possible carriers’ 5G network kit choices could soon be regulated as a result of security concerns attached to Chinese suppliers. The European Commission suggested as much this week, saying in another MWC keynote that it’s preparing to step in try to prevent security concerns at the EU Member State level from fragmenting 5G rollouts across the bloc.

In an on stage Q&A Orange’s chairman and CEO, Stéphane Richard, couched the risk of destabilization of the 5G global supply chain as a “big concern”, adding: “It’s the first time we have such an important risk in our industry.”

Geopolitical security is thus another issue carriers are having to factor in as they make decisions about how quickly to make the leap to 5G. And holding off on upgrades, while regulators and other standards bodies try to figure out a trusted way forward, might seem the more sensible thing to do — potentially stalling 5G upgrades in the meanwhile.

Given all the uncertainties there’s certainly no reason for consumers to rush in.

Smartphone upgrade cycles have slowed globally for a reason. Mobile hardware is mature because it’s serving consumers very well. Handsets are both powerful and capable enough to last for years.

And while there’s no doubt 5G will change things radically in future, including for consumers — enabling many more devices to be connected and feeding back data, with the potential to deliver on the (much hyped but also still pretty nascent) ‘smart home’ concept — the early 5G sales pitch for consumers essentially boils down to more of the same.

“Over the next ten years 4G will phase out. The question is how fast that happens in the meantime and again I think that will happen slower than in early times because [with 5G] you don’t come into a vacuum, you don’t fill a big gap,” suggests Gartner’s Fabre. “4G’s great, it’s getting better, wi’fi’s getting better… The story of let’s build a big national network to do 5G at scale [for all] that’s just not happening.”

“I think we’ll start very, very simple,” he adds of the 5G consumer proposition. “Things like caching data or simply doing more broadband faster. So more of the same.

“It’ll be great though. But you’ll still be watching Netflix and maybe there’ll be a couple of apps that come up… Maybe some more interactive collaboration or what have you. But we know these things are being used today by enterprises and consumers and they’ll continue to be used.”

So — in sum — the 5G mantra for the sensible consumer is really ‘wait and see’.

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The best of MWC 2019

Posted by | hardware, huawei, Mobile, mwc, mwc 2019, Samsung | No Comments

After years of promises, 5G finally arrived at MWC 2019 — kind of, sort of. Barcelona served as the launching pad for several 5G handsets, set to arrive later this year. Though your actual 5G mileage may vary.

Foldable displays, another long-promised smartphone tech, also had its moment in the sun. Several companies debuted foldables — some were actual handsets with actual price tags, while others fell firmly within the concept camp. And pretty much all of them were behind glass.

Other notable trends for the event included cameras, AR/VR and security of all sorts. Here are the highlights and lowlights from the world’s biggest mobile show. All in all, we’re here for the weirdness.

5G comes of age

It’s been an MWC talking point for years now, but at this week’s show, the first 5G handsets finally arrived.

Huawei Mate X
LG V50 ThinQ 5G
Samsung Galaxy Fold
Samsung Galaxy S10
Xiaomi Mi Mix 3
ZTE Axon 10 Pro 5G

OnePlus, which promised last year that it would be among the first to hop on the 5G train, didn’t have a handset to announce, but it did demo a prototype and announce an initiative for 5G app devs.

Unfolding the future 

Time to unfold the checkbook. The first foldables are here, carrying an average price of ~$2,000. That’s like two phones for the price of, well, two phones. Whether or not the phones will be worth it, however, is another question entirely.

Huawei Mate X
Samsung Galaxy Fold

TCL showed off a prototype at the show, promising to deliver a more affordable take on the space at some point next year. Oppo, too, is still very much in the prototype phase.

AR/VR/MR

The biggest hit of the world’s biggest phone show may not have been a phone at all. Microsoft used the event to launch the second generation of its HoloLens, a headset firmly focused on business.

Microsoft HoloLens 2
Microsoft Azure Kinect
Vive Focus Plus
Qualcomm XR chips

Security

Huawei had a lot to say about accusations of security threats around its 5G equipment. Ditto for the European Commission’s digital commissioner. Android, meanwhile, will be getting more password-less logins.

Misc

Energizer’s 18,000 mAh phone
Light is expanding from smartphone cameras to self-driving cars
HTC’s blockchain phone can now be purchased with fiat currency
Sprint to launch 5G service in 4 cities in May
Facebook expands its internet infrastructure projects
New microSD format promises insane transfer speeds, better battery life
Nubia’s ‘wearable smartphone’ might be the next step for flexible displays

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