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Washington’s 5G Mania Endpoint – Global CyberBalkanisation

Over the past two years, governments and foreign intelligence agencies around the world have tried to understand the inexplicable, chaotic, irrational, indeed maniacal 5G policies of the Trump Administration. Revelations by former Trump administration officials and most recently Trump’s niece confirm that there is no rational basis for Trumpian positions and policies and that the best response is to recognize that Washington is no longer capable of playing a meaningful role as an architect of international law and standards shaping global 5G communication networks.

The most important question now is, what does this mean for the future of 5G? What will be the effects on the deployment and operation of global communication architectures and services? The answer, in a word, is CyberBalkanisation. It is being rapidly accelerated—not unlike the COVID virus—courtesy of Donald Trump.

The term CyberBalkanisation is not new, even if somewhat esoterically confined to communication theorists, and usually cast as an internet phenomenon. One of the earliest treatments of the subject occurred at a 1997 MIT workshop in the form of a prescient paper Electronic Communities: Global Village or Cyberbalkans? Trumpism’s rampant Xenophobia, anti-globalism, and setting people against each other manifested in the form of 5G Mania, have the effect of pouring gasoline on the CyberBalkan fire.

5G Manifestations of CyberBalkinisation

The principal innovation and importance of 5G is the ability to orchestrate virtual architectures and services on demand. It has little to do with radio spectrum or transceivers—which are basically low-margin commodity devices produced in mass by a handful of vendors. Indeed, F5G (non-radio-based network access ports) are bundled into the network architecture. Much of the virtualization work was done over a several-year period in the ETSI Network Functions Virtualisation (NFV) standards group and then moved into 3GPP and several other groups for implementation. More than 300 companies were involved—many U.S. based.

The U.S. government was essentially not engaged in any of the work and didn’t have a clue about what was occurring. Anyone interested can go to the highly transparent meeting records and see for themselves. This wasn’t especially a Trump malady. The USG for the past twenty years has eliminated its engagement capabilities in global industry bodies except for its fanciful affection for its own native DARPA internet and non-technical academic venues.

However, as the 5G and related specifications began moving to maturity in 3GPP and other bodies, the platform became ensnared within the Trump Washington dysfunctional meatgrinder. It was essentially a Perfect Storm. There were two winds blowing. One was the traditional spectrum lobby, which saw 5G as a goldmine for acquiring additional radio spectrum allocations. The second began as uniquely Trumpian—force China into favorable trade concessions by spinning up xenophobic and racist fears of alleged using 5G equipment and services to “spy on America.” In a kind of Trumpian achievement, even Democratic Congressional committees have recently attempted to “outTrump Trump,” by painting 5G as a Chinese-led “global conspiracy of digital authoritarianism.”

With the CyberBalkinisation train now in runaway mode, the results in 5G terms are dire. Every nation potentially becomes its own island of network architectures, devices and services. Every provider, the equipment and services they offer, and the customer data they keep, get compartmentalized within each country. It is the cyber equivalent of “build the wall.” Only human to human communication is allowed internationally, and both endpoint countries apply their law through contracts between the two terminating service providers approved by each national government—as the FCC has begun doing.

In historical terms, Washington’s 5G Mania endpoint potentially takes everyone back to the days before the first electrical communication treaty in 1850. Every national network was an island, and telegraph operators copied the messages on paper, which were handed across the border to another operator. The messages were examined for hidden codes. The principal existential question now is how far along that regression path do we collectively go.

In legal terms, the 5G Mania endpoint potentially moves the world back prior to the 1988 Melbourne Treaty and the WTO GATS when CyberBalkinisation was the norm. Underlying international fiber optic cable and satellite communication circuits could not be used to provide services to the public, network equipment, and phones could not be freely moved among nations. The only allowable international services were regulated and carefully controlled voice telephony, data, and network support services.

Indeed, one of Trump’s most damaging and likely enduring harms imparted on the U.S. globally is his systematic elimination of international agreements of all kinds, together with the associated intergovernmental systems of cooperation. The result is that there is no basis for any other country to trust the U.S. in any transnational matter. As Mary Trump notes, the U.S. now operates under a leader that will say anything for his own aggrandizement, and there is zero trust in anything said from one minute to the next. The adverse CyberBalkanisation impact is already being felt by Europeans who are demanding their data be removed from the U.S. It represents a new normal. Any residual U.S. trust as a global leader collapsed completely during the Pandemic—especially with Trump’s withdrawal from the WHO to promote his re-election. As the polls indicate, the U.S. is no longer regarded as a force for good.

5G CyberBalkinisation’s Biggest Loser is the United States

The biggest loser in the Back to the Future world of 5G CyberBalkinisation brought about by Trump and his friends is the United States. Even though the U.S. failed to abide by the Melbourne treaty and GATS, it became by far the biggest benefactor by the late 1990s. Its major companies most valuable strategic assets have long been the ability to analyze, resolve, and propagate tailored content and software on a global scale at high margins from common U.S. based facilities that were TCP/IP centric. The centricity could even be monitored through the CAIDA topology maps.

This U.S. centric configuration also enabled U.S. companies to generate huge amounts of valuable metadata about network endpoints and user behavior by maintaining and processing it at the same common U.S. based cloud data centers free from control. The business advantages in large measure were dependent on avoiding any CyberBalkinisation that were technical or legal based.

The emergence of 5G provided the U.S. with a win-win opportunity—where Huawei and other China vendors earned revenue selling large numbers of low-cost 5G/F5G access boxes worldwide on the periphery of 5G networks, while U.S. vendors earned revenue selling tailored virtual network and service orchestration services and content delivery from cloud data centers. Somewhat resembling Amazon, U.S. companies provided the consumer goods while China provided the trucks.

However, the clueless, clumsy antics of Trump and his supporters (they don’t deserve to be called strategies), have collectively taken us back to a world of CyberBalkinisation. The Administration’s combination of upending legal domestic and international systems combined with unending pretexts for attacks on China and Chinese companies, now place the U.S. in its own insular 5G Balkin State.

5G CyberBalkanisation, combined with other Trumpian machinations, profoundly and adversely affect both U.S. users and companies, as well as its national functional capacities.

U.S. end-users and companies are already denied access to some of the most advanced 5G network equipment and mobile devices, and the costs of what is available in the U.S. are increased. Meanwhile, most of the rest of the world will have the advantage of widespread deployment of the most advanced equipment and devices, including new services instantiated using them. The U.S. global 5G market share will shrink and disencent hardware vendors (who are almost entirely offshore) from aggressively pursuing its market. Trump’s treatment of Huawei is essentially a warning to others that a dysfunctional U.S. president’s vicarious ire expressed in a tweet can result in being summarily banned from the national market.

The harm to U.S. consumers is also significantly exacerbated by the utter lack of any national 5G cybersecurity oversight or requirements. Almost alone in the world, U.S. government agencies today, with only a few minor exceptions, do not even engage in industry bodies to understand and help establish 5G security requirements. The engagement of U.S. companies in those bodies has also been minimal because there is little incentive anymore to expend the resources. The contrast is dramatic compared with vendors from other countries—especially China—who have substantial incentives to demonstrate significant attention to cybersecurity and participate significantly. The disparity is striking in almost every industry 5G technical venue today.

The harm to U.S. companies in strategically competitive areas such as network and service instantiation, and content delivery and analysis is even more dramatic. Many are already establishing more offshore subsidiaries and data centers all over the world outside the U.S. In a CyberBalkinized world, “what happens in the CyberBalkin State, stays in the CyberBalkin State.” This shift in network and service architectures is also supported in some of the new 5G technologies such as Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC) and the shift to low-latency non-IP protocols being rolled out by MEF Forum. Being successful in the rapidly emerging 5G world will increasingly depend on a company’s understanding of and engagement in the fundamental industry platform evolutions and the ability to deploy them in multiple markets worldwide.

The harm to U.S. national functional capacities is diverse and pervasive and will be felt for years. Shutting off the admittance of scholars and foreign expert employees deprives U.S. academic institutions and companies of innovative and enthusiastic young talent from around the world who bring fresh perspectives to the work. Trump’s draconian exercise of CFIUS and Export Administration Regulation (EAR) powers similarly deprive the nation of the ability to promote a competitive industry the global 5G marketplace and drive the U.S. into becoming a CyberBaltic State. Withdrawing from international agreements and activities to the point of eliminating the institutional and staff expertise throughout the Federal government completes the encapsulation and isolation by preluding even the most basic understanding about what is occurring in the 5G world.

The sum of all harms being inflicted by Washington 5G Mania is undoubtedly exceeded by those inflicted on the health of U.S. citizens, the national economy, and the environment. U.S. recovery will take many years—even with a new Biden Administration, which will have its own reconstruction challenges. In the meantime—as in many other matters—the consensus among analysts is that Europe is emerging as the trusted global leader presiding over an increasingly CyberBalkanised world.

By Anthony Rutkowski, Principal, Netmagic Associates LLC

The author is a leader in many international cybersecurity bodies developing global standards and legal norms over many years.

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