The United States has fired a shot across the bow of the Jamaican Government in relation to the installation of fifth generation (5G) mobile technology infrastructure, saying that any decision to engage China or a Chinese firm poses several risks to the island, particularly to the financial sector.
America’s top diplomat in Jamaica, Ambassador Donald Tapia, made Washington’s position known in an exclusive interview with the Sunday Observer last Friday following an article published by the newspaper last Sunday reporting Spectrum Management Authority (SMA) saying that Jamaica is far advanced in preparing the regulatory and monitoring regime for the proliferation of 5G services in the island.
While advancing his preference that Jamaica goes with other models of 5G architecture, Tapia made the point that the island’s financial sector would be hit hard if the Government engages 5G technology from a Chinese source.
Making it clear that his problem with China rests with the totalitarian nature of its Government, Tapia said his country has national security concerns with 5G technology developed by Chinese companies such as Huawei and ZTE.
Declaring that these companies have been found wanting on data security issues, Ambassador Tapia produced US State Department information outlining myths and facts about 5G security and Huawei.
Included in the information is a declaration that no American company currently offers 5G end-to-end network solutions. “Security concerns expressed by the United States are truly about ensuring our shared security,” the State Department states.
It adds that alternative suppliers of end-to-end solutions are headquartered in democracies that offer rule of law and judicial protections to prevent government overreach. The document lists those suppliers as Ericsson in Sweden, Nokia in Finland, and Samsung in South Korea.
The State Department also argues in the document that “allowing Chinese equipment companies into any part of a 5G network creates unacceptable risks to national security, critical infrastructure, privacy, and human rights”.
Tapia reiterated his Government’s position that it will reassess how it interconnects and shares information with countries that compromise their 5G security.
“As for consequences, it’s gonna affect banking, any financial transaction from this island,” Tapia said, adding “that’s the biggest consequence you have, that your financial institutions and the finance of Jamaica stops… that’s the consequence that you are looking at long term. That’s major.” Another negative consequence of utilising Chinese-developed 5G, he said, was access to aid in times of disaster.
“If you were to have a hurricane, earthquake or any type of natural disaster, we cannot and will not move into a communist Chinese network because it gives them the opportunity to download all the data that we have,” he explained.
“You either have to look to the East to the two-headed dragon, or you’re gonna have to look to the North. It’s a decision your Government will have to make,” Tapia contended.
He pointed to the United Kingdom Government’s decision earlier this year banning mobile providers in that country from buying new Huawei 5G equipment after December this year. The Boris Johnson Administration also ordered the companies to remove all Huawei 5G kits from their networks by 2027.
London’s decision came after Washington imposed sanctions on the Chinese firm, which the Americans say poses a national security threat. Huawei has denied the accusation.
On Friday, Ambassador Tapia, who has consistently expressed discomfort with Jamaica’s business relationship with China, said the issue of trust was extremely important in the establishment of a 5G network.
His comments echoed those by the State Department which, in its document, stated that “trust cannot exist when vendors are subject to secret manipulation by an authoritarian Government, like the People’s Republic of China, that lacks an independent judiciary and rule of law that prevents misuse of data”.
The 5th generation mobile network is designed to connect virtually everyone and everything together including machines, objects, and devices. It is designed to deliver higher multi-Gbps peak data speeds, ultra-low latency, more reliability, massive network capacity, increased availability, and a more uniform experience to more users.
In its 2019/2020 annual report tabled in Parliament two weeks ago, the SMA outlined a number of initiatives and activities being put in place to prepare Jamaica for the roll-out of 5G services.
These include the ear marking of high frequency bands such as the 24.25 -27.5 GHz; 37 – 43.5 GHz; 47.2-48.2 GHz; and 66 – 71 GHz. These frequency bands were agreed at the last World Radiocommunication conference held October to November last year in Egypt.
Dr Maria Myers-Hamilton, SMA managing director, has pointed out that these high-frequency bands are currently not being used by any of Jamaica’s mobile network providers. She highlighted the need for Jamaica to establish national committees to begin looking at the local spectrum needs for 5G and the practical ways in which spectrum may be of benefit to the Jamaican economy.