Under the auspices of the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS), the US 5G industry has opened an investigation into how to enhance security for its supply chain. While details remain scarce, the effort undoubtedly is tied to ongoing concerns over Chinese suppliers like Huawei and ZTE and how they might enable spying into American telecom networks.
An ATIS representative confirmed to Light Reading that the organization this month formally launched an "initiative" to look at the supply chain for 5G products. The representative declined to provide any further details on the effort, but one executive at a US wireless network operator acknowledge the initiative is related to security concerns over China and Chinese suppliers.
ATIS's investigation into the supply chain for 5G is noteworthy because the association is often the place where North American wireless network operators, cable companies, telecom equipment providers and other players in the sector gather to address industry-wide problems. For example, ATIS has ongoing initiatives into preventing robocalls, phone number administration, keeping networks running during emergencies and delivering emergency alerts. ATIS creates standards for such issues and is the North American "organizational partner" for the global 5G standards group 3GPP, and beyond that creates solutions to implement interoperable technologies and business practices across competing operators.
ATIS is certainly not working on the supply chain issue in a vacuum. US legislators and regulators have already taken a number of steps against China in the telecommunications realm, efforts that range from blocking Huawei and ZTE from selling their equipment to government agencies to blocking US companies from doing business with them.
Indeed, the FCC has an ongoing proceeding looking specifically at the security of the supply chain for US telecommunications companies. The Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) -- a group that's similar to ATIS -- has been particularly active in that proceeding, arguing that the FCC should prevent US telecom operators from funneling government subsidies to the likes of Huawei and ZTE.
Huawei just this month submitted a new filing in the FCC's proceeding, arguing that blocking it from the US 5G market could cut out a whopping $241 billion from the US Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in under two years.
And, of course, a wider trade war between the US and China threatens to overtake any real movement in the telecommunications market on the matter. After all, there are indications that President Trump could use a ban against Huawei as a negotiating tactic in the trade dispute, thereby potentially undercutting arguments that the company poses a legitimate US security risk.
As ATIS' 5G supply chain initiative gets going, one thing is clear: Some telecom vendors are already moving their manufacturing out of China. For example, Inseego, an early mover in 5G hotspots, said earlier this year it finished moving its manufacturing operations out of China and into Taiwan.