5G doesn't belong to just one country, Cisco's vice president says

Key Points
  • The advent of a super-fast 5G mobile network has been dominated by heated debates over national security concerns and fears that major players in the 5G industry, like tech giant Huawei, could be used by China to spy on other nations.
  • But Guy Diedrich, the vice president and global innovation officer at Cisco, insisted to CNBC that no one country or company would have a monopoly on the next generation of mobile internet.
  • "There is not any one country, one company or one continent that's going to own 5G," he said, speaking at CNBC's East Tech West conference in the Nansha district of Guangzhou, China on Monday. 
A man stands next to a 5G sign at the Tencent Global Digital Ecosystem Summit in Kunming, China, May 23, 2019.
Stringer | Reuters

The advent of a super-fast 5G mobile network has been dominated by heated debates over national security concerns and fears that major players in the 5G industry, like tech giant Huawei, could be used by China to spy on other nations.

But Guy Diedrich, the vice president and global innovation officer at Cisco, insisted to CNBC that no one country or company would have a monopoly on the next generation of mobile internet.

"There is not any one country, one company or one continent that's going to own 5G," he said, speaking at CNBC's East Tech West conference in the Nansha district of Guangzhou, China on Monday. 

5G is the name of the next generation of mobile networks that are meant to offer super-fast data speeds, though most of the world still operates on the 4G network. The debate over 5G, or more specifically, the debate over the providers of 5G technology, has become politicized with officials in the U.S. and U.K., among other countries, expressing concerns that companies like Huawei could be a security threat.

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For its part, Huawei has vehemently denied that its technology could ever be used to conduct any surveillance (or sabotage) for China. Some experts remain to be convinced, however. The U.K. has delayed a decision on whether to allow the tech giant a role in its 5G infrastructure until after a general election on December 12.

Diedrich, who runs a program for Cisco called 'Country Digital Acceleration' that is currently working with 31 countries to help them "digitize faster," said that only a few of them were starting to think about 5G.

"We're just now starting to see them take interest and do some investments in 5G. The point here is that it is indeed a race, I don't want us to think about it as a sprint. It's more of a marathon and we're in the first few steps of that marathon," he said.

"I engage with those 31 countries around the world and those leaders. We have Nokia, we have Ericsson, we have at Cisco 60,000 partners around the world that we work with and it's going to take a large number of those partners to see 5G fulfilled," he said.

There are a number of other innovations in the tech space, Diedrich said, like the internet of things (a system of interconnected devices) and the next generation of Wi-Fi, known as Wi-Fi 6.

"And it's not just about 5G. 5G is part of it (but) it's also about WiFi 6, it's about iot (the internet of things), it's about AI (artificial intelligence) it's about all of the different technologies that will be built upon it so again I just don't want the focus to be all about 5G and who gets to the finish line, the sprint first, because there's a much longer race after that," he said.

Cisco was named the largest cyber-security vendor in the world by revenue earlier this year in a ranking of cybersecurity providers by analyst firm Canalys. It stops 20 billion cyber attacks a day, according to Diedrich.

"The security concerns are between companies and governments," he said, noting that the primary concern around security is the number of security providers that each country has protecting it.

"When you have 30 to 50, as many as 70 security providers which a lot of individual companies and countries have, they don't talk to each other, they don't integrate well. And so, all the bad guys do is look for that one weak link in that security chain, exploit it and run with it. So, it's (the solution is) more about coming up with a comprehensive security strategy and making sure that security is embedded in the network, that I think is important."

Diedrich said the unresolved trade war between the U.S. and China was holding back investment in 5G. "Trade wars don't benefit anybody and it's unnecessarily constraining the ability of countries and companies to spend on digitization."