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Russia's invasion of Ukraine reverberates through 5G, semiconductors, MWC

The implications of Russia's invasion of Ukraine stretched across the world this week, and began to impact parts of the global telecommunications industry.

Most immediately, the GSMA said it will not host a pavilion for Russian companies at its MWC Barcelona trade show next week. The association routinely organizes venues at MWC for various countries to show off their domestic telecom players.

"The GSMA strongly condemns the Russian invasion of Ukraine," the association said on its MWC website, noting that the situation is "fast moving."

Continued the GSMA: "MWC is a unifying event with a vision to convene the mobile ecosystem to progress ways and means that connectivity can ensure people, industry, and society thrive. The GSMA follows all government sanctions and policies resulting from this situation. There will be no Russian Pavilion at MWC22. Security for the event is constantly reviewed and adjusted as information emerges."

According to Reuters, a "handful" of unspecified Russian companies will be barred from the show. "We are guided by the international sanctions and there are some companies that are identified on the sanction list and those will be barred from participating," GSMA's John Hoffman told the publication.

Megafon is a mobile operator in Russia (Source: Aleksey Zotov / Alamy Stock Photo)
Megafon is a mobile operator in Russia
(Source: Aleksey Zotov / Alamy Stock Photo)

Earlier this week, the White House announced a series of sanctions against Russia that covered telecommunications equipment and semiconductors.

"This includes Russia-wide denial of exports of sensitive technology, primarily targeting the Russian defense, aviation, and maritime sectors to cut off Russia's access to cutting-edge technology," the White House wrote. "The United States government will impose Russia-wide restrictions on sensitive US technologies produced in foreign countries using US-origin software, technology or equipment. This includes Russia-wide restrictions on semiconductors, telecommunication, encryption security, lasers, sensors, navigation, avionics and maritime technologies. These severe and sustained controls will cut off Russia's access to cutting edge technology."

That's noteworthy in light of recent discussions among policy experts that the US could impose the same kinds of restrictions against Russia that it has implemented against Chinese 5G vendor Huawei.

Such restrictions could "box the Russians out of the 5G market," James Andrew Lewis, senior vice president and director of the Strategic Technologies Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Ars Technica last month.

More broadly, the semiconductor industry – which funnels components directly into the telecom and 5G space – may be affected by Russia's advance into Ukraine. As noted by the New York Times, Russia accounts for less than 0.1% of global chip purchases, according to the World Semiconductor Trade Statistics organization.

However, Ukraine is a major source of neon purification, a gas used in the production of semiconductors. As a result, Russia's control of the country could affect global semiconductor development.

Thus, it's clear that Russia's invasion could hasten a global entrenching among major powers designed to shore up domestic supplies of technological components. China, the US and other countries are working to ensure they're not beholden to rivals in the manufacture of critical chips and other products.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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