State Department’s 5G Clean Network Club Gains Members Quickly
Source: Forbes Roslyn Layton Senior Contributor
September 7, 2020
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the Clean Network initiative for 5G in April. He invited nations and corporations to join a global effort to promote data privacy, security, human rights, and collaboration in communication networks. The Clean Network is based on internationally accepted, technologically neutral standards of digital trust developed by the Center for Strategic and International Studies; the European Union’s 5G Toolbox; and the Prague Proposals, 5G recommendations form 30 nations. The most advanced network policy from the State Department to date, it provides a comprehensive network model integrating the engineering concepts of infrastructure, data, and applications. More than 30 leading mobile operators from 20 countries have joined the US in excluding components produced by Chinese government affiliates in 5G networks. Collectively, the Clean Network group of countries covers 52 percent of the global economy and sets a secure baseline for 5G.
Components of the Clean Network
The State Department Policy established requirements for “Clean” network elements: Carriers, Applications, App Stores, Cloud, and undersea Cables. Japan, the world’s 3rd largest economy, has a strong presence in the effort with its mobile technology companies NTT, NEC, KDDI, SoftBank, and Rakuten. Other clean carriers include Orange in France, Jio in India, Telstra in Australia, SK and KT in South Korea, O2 in the UK, and Bell, Telus, and Rogers in Canada. Telefonica is clean in Spain and UK and plans to rip and replace Chinese military linked-Huawei equipment in Germany and Brazil. US diplomatic efforts have succeeded to bring the UK and France aboard. Germany’s state-owned Deutsche Telekom is the laggard, and Chancellor Angela Merkel faces growing opposition from the Parliament and public for defending the company’s deep ties to China.
The Clean Network effort also includes a commitment to remove untrusted mobile applications from mobile app stores, apps that knowingly violate privacy, introduce viruses, censor content, and spread propaganda and misinformation. It requires that 5G cloud services do not expose user data to Chinese-government enabled companies like Alibaba, Baidu, and Tencent. Moreover, it ensures that undersea cables connecting internet are not subverted for mass surveillance.
The US has a done a lot to “clean up” its own act, rebooting the authority of “Team Telecom,” the collective national security review by Executive Branch agencies. While restrictions on Huawei originate from the Obama Administration, Chinese government owned carriers have operated in the US for almost two decades. Earlier this year the Federal Communication Commission moved to revoke the licenses of four Chinese government owned entities, following its rejection of China Mobile’s application.
Secretary Pompeo also announced new requirements that all 5G network traffic in U.S. diplomatic facilities must be secure with an end-to-end communication path that does not use any transmission, control, computing, or storage equipment from untrusted IT vendors which comply with directives of the Chinese government.
Next on the Clean Network roadmap
The Clean Network effort is two-fold; it rejects Chinese government affiliated vendors on the one hand, and on the other, sets the requirements to be designated a trusted vendor. Consumers and companies are likely to increasingly demand the same end to end security standards that the State Department requires for its communications. One company has already seized this opportunity, Japan’s Rakuten Mobile. It is the first to operate as an Open Radio Access Network (ORAN) and is building world’s first end-to-end fully virtualized cloud native network. In an email, Rakuten Mobile Chief Technology Officer Tareq Amin confirmed that the company does not use any server equipment produced by Chinese state-owned companies for its telecom infrastructure. Among China’s leading producers of servers—Inspur, Huawei, and Lenovo—all three are owned or affiliated with the Chinese government. Servers facilitate the process of information on networks.
Indeed the State Department reportedly restricted Lenovo computers beginning in 2006, along with intelligence agencies in the US, UK, Canada, and New Zealand. Lenovo laptops and Chinese government owned Lexmark printers appear on the Department of Defense’s internal “Do Not Buy” list. This follows the announcement from Denmark’s Defense Minister Trine Bramsen (Social Democrat Party) that only vendors from allied countries will be allowed to provision 5G networks and other critical infrastructure, a requirement being enshrined in legislation. As such, the Danish Ministry of Defense noted that it is unlikely to purchase Lenovo products in future.
The Clean Network initiative demonstrates the important policy evolution at the State Department, recognizing that securing networks requires more than merely restricting Huawei, or the network transport layer, a policy dating from the Obama Administration. The identification and articulation of network elements like Carriers, Applications, App Stores, Cloud, and undersea Cables shows the State Department’s improved intellectual understanding of the complexity and integration of networks. the State Department should continue this valuable policy evolution to include devices, as the process and storage of information is also integral to 5G.
The policy has already achieved significant traction with many nations and companies coming aboard and more are likely to come. The Prime Minister of Poland Mateusz Morawiecki said the 5G Clean Path network is a “prerequisite for EU strategic technological sovereignty” and will “protect entrepreneurs from industrial espionage.”
UPDATE: This article was updated on September 7, 2020 to reflect that Rakuten Mobile does not use server equipment produced by Chinese state-owned companies.