Exclusive: US top cyber diplomat tells global telcos to follow Jio model

By Nikhila Natarajan

New York, The United States is urging telecom operators around the world to follow the Reliance Jio template of developing homegrown 5G solutions, while delivering stinging criticism against Chinese telecoms giant Huawei and the consequences of “untrusted” Chinese components in 5G infrastructure.

“I think the lesson of Reliance Jio is that there’s nothing mystical about 5G technology. It has the same types of components that 4G technology has; it’s just evolved to another level,” Robert L. Strayer, a top US cyber diplomat, told IANS.

Strayer was offering the US assessment of Jio’s 100 per cent Made-in-India 5G solution, announced July 15 by Reliance chairman Mukesh Ambani at the company’s 43rd AGM.

Strayer is the US Deputy Assistant Secretary for Cyber and International Communications and Information Policy. He leads development of international cybersecurity, Internet, data, and privacy policy and negotiations with foreign governments for the United States. A big part of Strayer’s job involves getting allies and other countries over to the US side to invest in non-Huawei equipment and components for 5G networks.

Asked specifically what Airtel, Voda Idea, BSNL should do given dependencies on Chinese gear, Strayer spoke to the realities of technology life cycle and depreciation as a way to “migrate” away from “untrusted vendors to trusted vendors”.

“Our campaign is focused on the move to 5G, but we realize the legacy 3G and 4G infrastructure will underpin the move to 5G. So we do encourage governments and telecom operators just to look at how they can start moving, migrating away — that is, from untrusted vendors to trusted vendors.”

The US has praised Telefonica in Spain, Orange in France, Jio in India, Telstra in Australia, SK and KT in South Korea, NTT in Japan, and the telecom operators in Canada and Singapore for their decision to only use “trusted vendors” in their 5G deployments.

Strayer’s comments come on the same day that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in London tore into China for its “untrusted” IT vendors, such as Huawei and ZTE, “broken promises” and what he called threats and bullying against India.

Speaking on the Jio model of zero Chinese inputs, Strayer laid out the market opportunities for indigenous production in India as a “global market” of components between the antenna, base stations, backhaul, core servers and management of the network itself.

“The consequences of 5G deployment choices made during the next year or so by government and by telecom operators will be felt for years, if not decades, to come,” Strayer said.

Echoing Pompeo’s refrain, Strayer said “the tide is turning against Huawei”. The world is waking up, he said, to the “dangers of the Chinese Communist Party’s surveillance state and suppression of information.

Starting April 29, 2020, the US announced that it would require what it calls a “Clean Path” for all 5G network traffic entering and exiting US diplomatic facilities.

The US defines the 5G Clean Path as an end-to-end communication path that does not use any transmission, control, computing, or storage equipment from “untrusted IT vendors” such as Huawei and ZTE.

“Allowing untrusted, high-risk vendors such as Huawei and ZTE into any part of 5G networks makes critical systems vulnerable to disruption, manipulation, and espionage while putting sensitive government, commercial, and personal information at risk,” Strayer said.