5G and its Military Implications

 By Kanchana Ramanujam

What is 5G

5G is the fifth generation of cellular technology which provide more rapid, stable, and secure connection. The data transfer rates in 5G are expected to be 100 times faster, the network latency will be significantly reduced to 1-10 ms, and network slicing technology would make it possible to exclusively dedicate a part of a 5G network for a service.

5G would further boost advancements in the fields of Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Augmented Reality (AR).

Military Applications of 5G

Be it the British ownership of telegraph cables during World War I or the US’ information dominance in the First Gulf War, history is testimony to the fact that having state-of-the-art technology is a battle-winning factor. The same holds true of 5G technology too. The instantaneous transmission and reception of large amounts of data would have a profound influence on the battlefield, especially the communication infrastructure and military technologies.

  • Enabler of Autonomous Systems

The speed and latency attributes of 5G will help in military equipment and unmanned systems becoming autonomous.

  • Hypersonic Missile Defence Systems

5G will be an enabler of AI and speedy data processing required to defend against hypersonic weapons. It will hence, spur the development of defence systems that intercept hypersonic missiles.

  • ‘Smart’ Communication

The high frequency, short wavelength ‘millimeter-wave’ spectrum of 5G can be used for real-time communication in sensitive areas like military bases and command posts, and the low frequency, long wavelength connection can be used for long-range communication (which the militaries already use).

  • Improved Situational Awareness

Real-time communication, increased number of connected devices, lower latency, higher data transfer rate and capacity to transmit real-time 4K videos, ability to combine fragmented networks, etc. will lead to enhanced situational awareness.

  • Massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC)

The mMTC capability would enable up to ten lakh devices per square kilometre to be connected. Fitting different sensors to it would enable the exchange of vast and varied data including biometrics. This could potentially revolutionise the battlefield by enabling operations such as remote medication to an injured soldier based on his/her vital statistics, augmented reality using real-time data, etc.[i]

The Major Players in 5G

 Sweden’s Ericsson, Finland’s Nokia, China’s Huawei, and the US’ Qualcomm are the major players in the 5G market. Qualcomm produces half of all core baseband radio chips in smartphones. It dominated in 3G and 4G standards settings. In the race for 5G patents now are Qualcomm, Huawei, Nokia, and Ericsson. No Indian company is a major global player in this field.

The Case of Huawei

Founded in 1987 by Ren Zhengfei, Huawei has become a global giant in 5G technology. As of April 2019, could hold more patents related to 5G than any other company.[ii] With Vodafone’s help, it completed the world’s first 5G call.[iii] Moreover, it launched the world’s first core chip designed for 5G base stations.[iv]

Huawei – Cutting Edge Technology & Global Notoriety

The founder of Huawei – Ren Zhenfei – is a former People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldier.[v] Huawei, the PLA & the Communist Party of China allegedly share deep relations.[vi]

Huawei has several cases of security vulnerabilities, Intellectual Property (IP) theft, hacking, etc. against it.[vii] Some of them have been given below –

  • Hanjuan Jin, a US citizen of Chinese descent and an employee of Motorola, was arrested in 2007 with classified Motorola documents, USD 30,000 in cash, and a one-way ticket to China. She worked not only for Motorola, but also Lemko – a company set up by another Motorola employee, Shaowei Pan, after his meeting with Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei.
  • Huawei hacked into Nortel Networks stealing trade secrets, passwords, usernames, etc. and gaining access to crucial information. This led to Nortel eventually going bankrupt.
  • Huawei was accused of stealing a robot when one of its employees walked out of T-Mobile testing lab with the proprietary robot – Tappy – in his laptop bag!
  • Huawei broke the contract and violated US export-control laws when it returned a prototype of Miraj Diamond Glass (six times stronger and 10 times more scratch-resistant than Gorilla Glass) in damaged condition. It was sent to Huawei by Akhan Semiconductor Inc for licensing of the technology.
  • There are numerous cases of patent-infringement against Huawei including the ones by US’ PanOptis, Israel’s SolarEdge, and US’ Cisco Systems.
  • In 2011, Vodafone had flagged security vulnerabilities in Huawei’s equipment including hidden backdoors which could give unauthorised access to Huawei. Though Huawei claimed to have fixed it, Vodafone again found vulnerabilities in other parts. As of 2019, Vodafone does not use Huawei’s equipment for its core networks across Europe.

India & 5G

India is expected to become the second largest 5G market in the next 10 years, next only to China. Despite this, there are no Indian telecom companies in the global list of 5G deployments.

5G technology is the foundation for military technology and wars of the future. It is, therefore, not surprising that the next generation of mobile connectivity has become a geo-political issue.

While the security risks associated with Huawei have time and again been flagged, the Indian government has still not excluded it from the 5G trials in India. Huawei claims that it will “never provide” government with information, it is apposite to recall China’s National Intelligence Law passed in 2017 which states that “any organization or citizen shall support, assist, and cooperate with state intelligence work according to law.[viii] The Indian Armed Forces need to meticulously study and analyse the implications of operating in area with foreign-controlled/operated 5G infrastructure. Interception and even denial of military communications could be a reality.

According to Prof V Kamakoti, policy-makers should have an India-specific 5G-roll-out model, Indian 5G equipment industries like Signal chips, Nivetti, Tejas Networks, etc. should be source-funded, and use indigenous microprocessors and nano-sensor research & development should be encouraged.[ix]

5G in not just about connectivity, it’s about global dominance and future warfare. India cannot afford to keep its critical infrastructure and IoT vulnerable to attack by the adversary. To be secure in a 5G world, the 5G infrastructure and equipment needs to be India-produced and India-owned. While India may not have the desired lead in 5G, the government, the tech industries and research institutes, and the security forces should work together to not just bridge the gap but also be prepared for 6G.



[i] Carter, J. (2019). How the 5G network could benefit the military. [online] TechRadar. Available at: https://www.techradar.com/news/how-the-5g-network-could-benefit-the-military  [Accessed 20 Jul. 2019].
[ii] Rogerson, J. (2019). The unsung heroes of 5G: which companies are pushing the tech forward?. [online] TechRadar. Available at: https://www.techradar.com/news/the-unsung-heroes-of-5g  [Accessed 20 Jul. 2019].
[iii] huawei. (2019). Vodafone and Huawei Complete World’s First 5G call and Dual Connectivity using 3GPP R15 NSA Standard - Huawei Press Center. [online] Available at: https://www.huawei.com/en/press-events/news/2018/2/First-5Gcall-3GPP-Based-5G-Commercial-System  [Accessed 20 Jul. 2019].
[iv] huawei. (2019). Huawei Launches World's First 5G Base Station Core Chip for Simplified 5G. [online] Available at: https://www.huawei.com/en/press-events/news/2019/1/huawei-first-5g-base-station-core-chip-5g  [Accessed 20 Jul. 2019].
[v] huawei. (2019). Mr. Ren Zhengfei - Huawei Executives. [online] Available at: https://www.huawei.com/en/about-huawei/executives/board-of-directors/ren-zhengfei  [Accessed 20 Jul. 2019].
[vi] Fish, I. (2019). Even if Trump trusts Huawei, here’s why America shouldn’t. [online] The Washington Post. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/07/05/even-if-trump-trusts-huawei-heres-why-america-shouldnt/  [Accessed 20 Jul. 2019].
[vii] Chedalla, T. (2019). Top 9 Evidence of Huawei's Backdoor, IP Theft & Alleged Hacking Reports - PhoneRadar. [online] PhoneRadar. Available at: https://phoneradar.com/top-9-evidence-of-huaweis-backdoor-ip-theft-alleged-hacking-reports/  [Accessed 21 Jul. 2019].
[viii] En.pkulaw.cn. (2018). National Intelligence Law of the People's Republic of China (2018 Amendment). [online] Available at: http://en.pkulaw.cn/display.aspx?cgid=313975&lib=law  [Accessed 21 Jul. 2019]
[ix] ETCIO.com. (2019). Only 100% indigenisation can make India secure in 5G era: IIT Professor - ET CIO. [online] Available at: https://cio.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/internet/only-100-indigenisation-can-make-india-secure-in-5g-era-iit-professor/70167623  [Accessed 21 Jul. 2019].