6G and IoT Under the Spotlight as Concerns Over China Rise in the US

August 28, 2023

Written by Caio Castro
CATEGORY: Exclusives

The technology war between the United States and China has caught 6G and the Internet of Things (IoT) for good. Different federal bodies are considering at least two initiatives addressing both areas of telecommunications security.

Last July, Representative Kathy Manning introduced a bill at the US Congress that “requires the development of a strategy to promote the use of secure telecommunications infrastructure worldwide” and counter a potential Chinese leadership in the tech field.

According to the bill, “the expansive presence of companies linked to the Chinese Communist Party, such as Huawei, in global mobile networks demonstrates the importance of the United States remaining at the technological frontier and the dire consequences of falling behind.”

If Congress adopts the bill, the US government must deliver a strategy encompassing four focus areas: 6G and beyond, mobile networks, data centres, and Non-Terrestrial Networks.

For the next generation of mobile internet, the proposal requests the government to describe efforts to deepen cooperation with like-minded countries to promote US and allied market leadership in 6G networks. The deliverable must include ways to increase buy-in from developing and emerging countries on trusted technologies.

For networks, the document determines a description of efforts by countries other than the US to promote secure Open RAN technology and trade. The strategy would have to detail how to bolster multilateral cooperation to promote trusted wireless networks worldwide and counter Chinese market leadership in the telecom equipment industry.

The bill goes on to break down topics for implementing a strategy to counter China’s and Russia’s efforts at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) level.

“If China or Russia are allowed to create the rules of the road in the next generation of telecommunication technologies, like 5G, their companies will gain a competitive advantage over the tech channels that we rely on,” Manning said in a press release.

China has denied accusations that it is using components or software to illegally gather data.

‘Washington, Not Beijing’

Manning is not the only politician concerned about securing mobile communications on American ground.

Republicans Mike Gallagher (House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party), Michael McCaul (House Foreign Affairs Committee), Young Kim (House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Indo-Pacific), and Senator Bill Hagerty (Senate Banking Subcommittee on National Security and International Trade and Finance) are among other colleagues concerned.

In August, they issued a joint letter urging the Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo to “abandon Chinese working groups” set to begin after her trip to China between August 27 and 30. The group pushes for tighter restrictions on technology exports, especially AI chips.

“US export control policy towards the People’s Republic of China should not be up for negotiation, period. Decisions on the nature and scope of U.S. export controls should be taken in Washington, not Beijing,” they stated.

Not everyone agrees with such a position, at least not entirely. Colette Kress, CFO of semiconductor manufacturer Nvidia, said in an earnings call last week that further export restrictions on American chips “will result in a permanent loss of an opportunity for the US industry to compete and lead in one of the world’s largest markets.”

Yet, she believes that “the current regulation [curbing AI semiconductor exports to China] is achieving the intended results.”

Nvidia reported $13.5 billion in revenue and $6.1 billion in net income during the second quarter of fiscal 2024.

Labeling Security

While 6G might still be in development, there are other areas where US agencies have been closely looking at to mitigate security threats – either domestic or international.

Earlier this month, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a rulemaking proposal to increase trust in IoT devices, especially for end users.

The FCC intends to create a voluntary cybersecurity labelling program that would provide accessible information to consumers about the security levels of an IoT device or product and assure that manufacturers of devices bearing the Commission’s IoT cybersecurity label adhere to accepted standards.

The program “would help consumers compare IoT devices and make informed purchasing decisions, […] incentivise manufacturers to meet higher cybersecurity standards and encourage retailers to market secure devices.”

“When you need a baby monitor or some new home appliance, you will be able to look for the Cyber Trust Mark and shop with greater confidence. Because we know devices and services are not static, we are proposing that along with the mark, we will have a QR code that provides up-to-date information on that device,” detailed FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.

Among the criteria for issuing the trust mark is whether the device or product components were manufactured by Chinese companies included in the Covered list – a list of communications equipment and services produced or provided by specified entities that have been determined to pose an unacceptable risk to the national security to the US.

“If insecure equipment becomes included in the IoT cybersecurity label, it will undermine network security and the public’s trust in the program,” observed FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks. “Thus, it is vital that we do not place our stamp of approval on devices from producers that the United States government and its agencies have already identified publicly as part of a national security review.”

The proposed trust mark is still in the first stages of development. The FCC is seeking comments on several aspects of regulations. That is why a potential label should not be ready for the market at least until the beginning of November 2023, when replies and considerations to the proposal are officially due.

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