As the dream of 5G access becomes a fast approaching reality across Europe, there are growing concerns about how this technology will impact the consumer as well as the security risks that have been associated with it. On September 18, 2019, the Institute for Politics and Society held and European Liberal Forum a debate to discuss these and other questions that are being raised by the public. The panel was made up of: Antoni Wrega, the Deputy Head of the Mission, and Embassy of the Republic of Poland to the Czech Republic, Chris Boyer, Assistant Vice President of Strategic Research and Communications at AT&T, Jaroslav Šmíd, the Deputy Director of the National Cyber and Information Security Agency, Filip Plevač, expert in robotization, digitalization and Industry 4.0. The event was moderated by Ondřej Malý, who is the former Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade for the Internetisation of the Czech Republic in the Ministry of Industry and Trade. The event began with Mr. Malý who introduced the topic and emphasized how popular a topic 5G was in today’s media. He also discussed how despite 5G being so relevant throughout Europe, there were very few actual business models around it and that most telecom companies were hesitant to fully invest in the technology.
Antoni Wrega spoke about the security scandal that happened recently in Poland surrounding their governments purchase of 5G devices and technology from China. As a result of this, he remained firm throughout the debate that the neither the Polish government nor its people would purchase any more Chinese 5G technology until they had received a guarantee and proof that nothing like the security breech they experienced would ever happen again. He continued by saying that Poland was behind the US and many other countries in the development and implementation of 5G, though they are hoping to have more development in the area by 2020. As the debate continued, he also stated that while 5G technology was important to the advancement of the Polish and European economy, their main concern, and every country’s main concern should be finding trusted suppliers with independent judicial review to protect 5G security. Mr. Wrega maintained that Poland will continue to care more about their own security than the introduction of new technology. At the end of the conference he stated that for Poland to implement 5G, much of their information would need to be declassified and that the speed at which that happens will play a role in how quickly 5G comes to Poland.
Chris Boyer also spoke about 5G security and how it was going to impact AT&T’s development plans for the future. He spoke about how AT&T had a global presence and how they are fully committed to unrolling a secure mobile 5G network for the users by 2021. When asked about if all consumer devices will be using 5G, Mr. Boyer said that they expected most of their users to be new use ideas and specific enterprises where the low latency and extremely fast speeds made possible by 5G are necessary. Mr. Boyer spoke about how AT&T is taking precautions to ensure user security, though they are concerned about passing policy worldwide that will not limit their supply chain or hinder free competition because competition is what drives innovation. AT&T does not want to be in a position where they have limited options for 5G in their supply chain, though Mr. Boyer claims that AT&T is very confident in the suppliers they are planning on using now. AT&T is going even farther with these policies to try and de-integrate many of the 5G components that are currently being sold as one unit. They do however want all parts sold for these devices through all manufacturers worldwide to be compatible. They claim that this will improve security for the devices as well as improve the overall technology because they will be able to purchase the “best of breed” components. When official certification of the 5G technology being used was brought up, Mr. Boyer stated that a certification was only as good as the moment in time that it was issued and any update negated the certification. AT&T plans on building these security measures into their devices to help avoid this problem.
Jaroslav Šmíd initially discussed the difficulty the Czech government was having developing the new approach necessary for 5G in the Czech Republic. Just building the basic soft and hardware components would require rigorous review and certification to ensure security for both the provider and the user. He was also adamant that the Czech Republic is working with other countries in the development of 5G and that in these policies they are stressing cooperation. After the Polish 5G security scandal Mr. Šmíd issued a warning to Czech telecom operating companies that they should not use Chinese goods due to risk of a similar attack in the Czech Republic. When asked about how Czech operators reacted after receiving this warning Mr. Šmíd said the operators were not very affected by it. He said that they had many other venders they could use around the world but, all that Czech vendors still have to report any use of Chinese equipment to the ministry if it is used to protect classified information. He also spoke about how they were having issues developing and enforcing common criteria for certification around the world. Mr. Šmíd did talk about how new laws will have to be assed in the Czech Republic surrounding 5G and that they people need to consider what is more important to them, freedom or security, and in that the citizens would need to trust that their government is doing what is best for them and the country. But overall, the ministry is satisfied with the situation surrounding 5G.
Filip Plevač discussed how the use of 5G will make for a more streamlined and continuous process for industries, and that as the technology evolves it will be able to make more accurate predictions. This has great potential in the field of autonomous cars as well as remote surgery practices in hospitals. However, he believes there is currently not a high demand for 5G in the Czech Republic and much of the hype and worry surrounding it is unnecessary. When asked about how to increase the demand for 5G in the Cech Republic, he noted that once it is cost effective for companies, there will be a higher demand. He also said that because it is not actually available anywhere right now companies do not know how they would utilize it and once 5G does become available there will be a higher demand for it. Mr. Plevač also spoke about how in his experience, his clients only care about their company’s security after they have been hacked and that he has a hard time convincing them to take a more proactive approach when it comes to their security. He spoke about how the mind set in most of the companies that he works with is that hacking is inevitable so they plan and strategize more about how they will recover after an attack rather than take steps to prevent it.