Monthly Archives: October 2012
The Australian Communications and Media Authority will make 60MHz of broadband spectrum available to public safety agencies to deploy nationally interoperable mobile broadband networks. It’s an allocation that chair Chris Chapman says is ‘almost unique” by international benchmarks.
The ACMA is opening up 10MHz of spectrum in the 800MHz band for PSAs, as well as an extra 50MHz in the 4.9GHz band. Initial reports on the allocation neglected to mention the 4.9GHz allotment, eliciting fierce criticism from both PSAs and state and territory governments, who’d previously been pushing for 20MHz of 800MHz spectrum. But according to Chapman, the complementary combination of spectrum in the different bands will provide PSAs with a unique opportunity.
“I’m not saying that 4.9GHz is substitutable for 800MHz, but it’s a bit like the digital dividend auction where we’re providing 700MHz and 2.5GHz… so you can get the most efficient outcome from complementary spectrum. It gives you both coverage, and penetration,” Chapman told CommsDay. “4.9GHz is short-range and extremely high capacity.” The ACMA suggested that the 4.9GHz spectrum could be used to provide spill-over capacity where major events caused a spike in traffic.
“It is by international benchmarks an almost unique, multifaceted dedication of spectrum for PSAs,” continued Chapman, adding that regulators in the US and Canada were looking to allocate a much smaller slice to their own agencies, between 10 and 20MHz. “We are dedicating 85MHz of spectrum, 60MHz in broadband LTE-configurable bands and another 25MHz [currently being allocated] in the narrowband 400MHz band… between all those, it’s a very impressive package. And we’re excited because it provides PSAs in Australia with an extraordinary opportunity to do great things in the public interest with spectrum that provides coverage, flexibility, scalability… it’ll drive interoperability, it gives them capacity for data, video and voice. And it’s within a harmonised framework.”
The saga of Australian PSAs’ bid for LTE-capable spectrum goes back years, with agencies initially aiming for a slice of prized 700MHz digital dividend spectrum but ultimately batted back. Earlier this year, the premiers of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia petitioned prime minister Julia Gillard for “an absolute minimum” of two 10MHz blocks in 800MHz. They argued that this should be made available at no cost – and that the construction of a public safety network using the spectrum should be partly funded by some of the proceeds from the federal auction of 700MHz.
A new joint statement from attorney-general Nicola Roxon and communications minister Stephen Conroy, however, said that the spectrum will be offered to states at “a negotiated price” and conditional on factors including “the states and territories funding all costs associated with designing, building, equipping, maintaining and operating the capability.” Still, a spokesperson for Roxon told CommsDay that terms over who pays what are not yet set in stone, with the Commonwealth now set to kick off negotiations with states and territories ahead of the Standing Council on Police and Emergency Management in November.
The ACMA has said that PSA will likely be able to access their 800MHz allocation in 2015, in advance of the end of the regulator’s review into the broader 800MHz band.
A cyber security evaluation centre, like that proposed by Huawei, could be meaningless unless vendors open up not just their source code but the guts of their hardware – the application-specific integrated circuits. That’s the view of consultant Ross Halgren, who’s worked in the development of telecoms products from the integrated circuit level up through to the systems layer. But he warned that, with ASICs often representing proprietary technology purpose-built by individual vendors, the chance of them exposing that hardware for inspection would be pretty slender.
Halgren told CommsDay that in modern telecoms tech, with so much functionality embedded into ASICs, the devices themselves could be modified to hide security backdoors or other purpose-built vulnerabilities. “You’d basically have to get into the integrated circuit itself – cut it open and reverse engineer it to figure out exactly what it’s doing,” he said. “It’s not like software, where you can just basically go through the code, look at any line and say ‘there’s something anomalous here’. In integrated circuits, everything’s hardwired into silicon – you can’t just unscramble it like you can software code.”
That’s a problem because, according to Halgren, the expertise required to dig into the ASICs is very specific. He said that carriers, for example, would be unlikely to have access to the requisite skillsets, though they could at least ask vendors which ASICs they use and where. However, the relevant expertise does exist in-country.
“For example, we still have an ASIC design facility at Homebush, in New South Wales… it’s a high-class facility,” he said. “They’d have the kind of capability to know how to break a chip apart and reverse engineer it… and we have a lot of highly competent electronic engineers who could look at the algorithm level and look for flaws there.” The only alternative way to deep-search the chipsets themselves, continued the consultant, would be to user a supercomputer to exercise every single state of a given chip – but that could take an impractically long time.
Halgren was at pains to emphasise that the ASIC issue is not specific to Huawei. “It’s something that’s ubiquitous to the whole industry; you don’t know that anyone’s integrated circuit hasn’t got something in it like a trapdoor,” he said. “[But] given this possibility, it seems that setting up a centre to go and verify the code isn’t really solving the problem; the only way to solve the problem would be to set up a research facility somewhere, like the Department of Defence, which actually goes in and digs into integrated circuits. Which probably these companies would never let you do anyway, because of the proprietary knowledge that goes into them… especially if they’ve done their own ASICs. That’s what differentiates them from their competitors!”
With the proposed centre itself still very much at the conceptual stage, Huawei is not yet in a position to say whether it would be willing to open up its ASICs for scrutiny at such a facility. “While it is far too early to go into specific details, Huawei Australia has made it clear that we would be willing to offer open access to our source code and equipment by security-cleared individuals inside a secure environment,” said a spokesman.
An old colleague of mine who worked in national intelligence makes three points about allegations the Chinese government could use Huawei—supplied NBN kit to spy on Australia.
First, why would they bother? Second, if they were intent on doing so we should be flattered. Third, it’s hardly a state secret that we have unseaworthy submarines and rust bucket warships. The matter of real interest to them—commodity prices—can be gleaned from sources other than the NBN.
Nevertheless, in a “reds under the beds” panic the federal government has banned Huawei from the NBN. And lest Huawei’s unlikely triumvirate of John Brumby, Alexander Downer and retired admiral John Lord make progress against the claims made about Huawei’s threat to the Australian way of life, there’s always a cold war warrior ready to warn of the dangers that lurk beyond the bamboo curtain.
Last week, in an opinion piece in The Australian newspaper, Labor member Michael Danby recounted the findings of the US House Intelligence Committee which warned US companies of the dangers of doing business with Huawei and ZTE.
The biggest danger was, of course, they wouldn’t get government contracts: a warning from a committee whose members are heavily reliant upon donations from the US electronics and defence sectors and the trade unions that represent workers in the US equipment industry.
The report cited no instances of Huawei or ZTE gear being the source of leaks or security scares although a confidential annexure purportedly provides more information.
The report overshadowed the parallel findings of a year long White House inquiry into Chinese manufacturers which found no grounds for the accusations.
But the real focus of Danby’s attack was Huawei’s complicity as “major telephony provider to the regime in Iran.”
Huawei does not operate a network in Iran. It is one of three vendors alongside Ericsson and Nokia Siemens that supplied equipment to the number two Iranian operator MTN Irancell . In common with ‘licencing’ requirements in every market, including Australia, that digital mobile networks must be open to ‘interception’, there was nothing unique in the kit and none of it was subject to sanctions.
Nevertheless, Danby accused Huawei of sanction busting and aiding the Iranian regime even though the specialised software used to intercept and record text messages was supplied by an Irish software company Adaptive Mobile Security. Indeed, right now, a South African police unit is investigating South African telco MTN which holds a 49% stake in Irancell over the supply of prohibited US equipment to Irancell. That investigation is proceeding despite MTN being chaired by former African National Congress stalwart Cyril Ramphosa who was ANC secretary general in the early 1990s.
To support his case, Danby claimed that at a recent Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, committee members Senator Mark Bishop and independent MP Andrew Wilkie “recounted the crude boasts of Huawei salesmen that their equipment would assist Tehran leaders in intercepting and monitoring Iran\’s population.” Even the most cursory glance at Hansard reveals that what was put to the Huawei representatives at the hearing was an unsourced quote from the Economist attributed to Huawei employees.
GERMAN BAN? Danby also stressed that it wasn’t just Australia and the US barring Huawei from contracts. He cited the decision by Deutsches Forschungsnetz, the German equivalent of AARNet, to bar Huawei from bidding for an upgrade of its network. Deutsches Forschungsnetz, has used Huawei gear since 2005 and did not cite any security ‘problems’ in its decision. Nor are the concerns widespread in Germany given Deutsch Telekom signed a memorandum a year ago with Huawei to cooperate in that most security sensitive of spheres, the cloud.
But according to Danby, Huawei’s conduct raises concerns other than just security as it has “generous access to \”soft loans\” -to the tune of $30 billion.”
The use of soft loans by Chinese manufacturers has been a matter of concern to the European Union who threatened sanctions in mid year against Huawei but backed off fearing it would escalate a trade war. Soft loans or in industry parlance vendor or ‘bridging’ finance are usually backed by the vendors respective national export agency and are a common feature of any deal.
In fairness to Danby, there is a war going on, though not of the ’cold ‘variety.It’s a trade war with the US intent on protecting its electronics sector. Alcatel Lucent recently shed 5000 jobs, Motorola Mobility 4000. The committee would be aware of this.
But with little left of large scale equipment manufacturing in Australia, jobs can’t be a real concern here. But at least on national security NBN Co is proactive. Seemingly once the bid came in from Huawei, NBN Co immediately sought advice from ASIO and informed its shareholder minister. NBN Co wasn’t going to be left signing a contract it couldn’t honour on national security grounds even if this left them in the uncomfortable position of currently only having one supplier for its $1.5 billion GPON contract. Coincidentally, Alcatel also seem to manufacture NBN bound gear in China but apparently under such different conditions that there are no security issues worth considering.
March 11 2015
Apple will by-pass local operators and will only sell its Apple Watch wearable communications devices though its own online and retail stores when they arrive next month. CommsDay confirmed the move with Apple and local carriers including Telstra, Optus and Vodafone.
DOCSIS 3.0 and 3.1 will enable HFC networks to offer “equal performance” to fibre for the “forseeable future,” according to Cisco Fellow and cable access business unit CTO John Chapman – a key pioneer in the broader development of the DOCSIS standards. And that gives operators more freedom to mix access technologies in the most economic way possible, just as Australia’s NBN Co is attempting to do.
Regional carrier Pacnet, which was recently acquired by Telstra for around A$856 million, has announced a major upgrade to its infrastructure that will see it provide the industry’s first production level software defining network capability to the optical transport layer.
The arrival of Netflix in the Australian SVOD market later this month will primarily impact iTunes downloads and physical DVD sales rather than direct rivals such as Stan, Presto and Quickflix, according to a study by US research company IHS.