US maintains ban on Chinese tech firms as Huawei, ZTE make 5G leaps

Chinese technology suppliers such as Huawei and ZTE have encountered contrasting fortunes from the US and German authorities regarding the usage of their technologies.

US president Donald Trump has extended an executive order signed a year ago that effectively banned US companies from using telecommunications equipment made by firms said to pose a national security risk, in effect companies such as Huawei and ZTE.

While not naming specific companies or territories, the initial ban aimed to “protect America from foreign adversaries who are actively and increasingly creating and exploiting vulnerabilities in information and communications technology infrastructure and services”.

On 22 November 2019, US communications regulator the Federal Communications Commission passed a resolution based on a proposal from its chairman, Ajit Pai, that fundamentally prohibited recipients of the regulator’s USF (Universal Service Fund) from using such money to buy equipment or services from companies perceived to be a risk to the US.

Pai explicitly cited Huawei and ZTE, branding them “untrusted suppliers”. The proposal also required certain carriers receiving USF funds, known as eligible telecommunications carriers, to remove existing equipment and services from designated companies from their networks.

Meanwhile, the German Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community has announced that it wants to check whether manufacturers of 5G components are trustworthy to protect critical infrastructure from cyber attacks. In a draft of the country’s IT security law, made available to German media outlet EURACTIV, the ministry has tightened its criteria for 5G technology suppliers such as Huawei.

As this news was breaking, Huawei revealed that independent German IT security service provider ERNW had conducted a technical review of the source code for its unified distributed gateway (UDG) on 5G core networks, showing “convincing proof” that Huawei 5G core networks are secure and reliable.

The UDG is a converged network element that can process both 5G and traditional network services. On a 5G core network, it can function as a user plane function (UPF). On a traditional network, it can function as a serving gateway for the user plane and a packet data network gateway for the user plane.

ERNW reviewed the source code for UDG components in the Huawei Cyber Security Transparency Centre in Brussels, Belgium. The review covered source code quality, build processes, and open-source component lifecycle management.

Huawei said the source code quality review showed that the complexity of the source code was below ERNW’s threshold, duplicate code was rarely present only where appropriate, and unsafe functions “seemed” to be avoided wherever possible. It also noted that the build process review indicated that all binaries are compiled with secure compilation options and are also built with an acceptable level of binary equivalence.

The review of the lifecycle management of open source components was said to have showed that the separation of open source code, code handling, as well as documentation and patch management, are all reasonable and meet modern standards.

Huawei concluded that considering all the results of the technical review, the source code quality is a good indicator that it has established a mature and appropriate software engineering process.

As this was going on, ZTE claimed to have taken the lead in validating 5G carrier aggregation on 700MHz and 4.9GHz frequency bands in Shenzhen, China, fully facilitating the next phase of commercial construction on 700MHz.

Using a ZTE commercial 5G wireless base station and the latest 5GC core network equipment, the demonstration employed ZTE’s latest 5G test terminal system to achieve a system downlink data throughput up to 1.68Gbps.

The company said that by effectively aggregating the dual-carrier resources at different frequencies on 700MHz and 4.9GHz, the service support capability of the dual-band networking solution is superior to that of 5G New Radio 100MHz, thereby addressing the service competition problem of the future commercial use on the 700MHz frequency ban.