How does China become a world leader in the development of information technology?

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In this episode, Ruslan Izimov and Russian expert Leonid Kovacic discuss why the introduction of 5G technology is causing a lively debate around the world. Why is Chinese technology a persistent concern? Is China really becoming a leader in information technology, and how might this affect Russia, the countries of Central Asia and the whole world?

Welcome to the podcast – “China, Eurasia and all the rest” – A podcast about the “Belt and Road”, big games and other geopolitics. I am the presenter – Ruslan Izimov.

China is becoming a world leader in the development of information technology and artificial intelligence.  In the past decade, China has made huge investments in the development of information technology, and today it is emerging as a leader in a number of industries of modern technological solutions. But in most countries of the world, the attitude towards Chinese technology remains ambiguous.

On the one hand, China today can and does provide effective technological and digital solutions, without which it is already difficult to imagine the future. On the other hand, confidence in the technology of China’s totalitarian regime remains low. This is due to the misuse of information technology, the introduction of digital surveillance systems, or the widespread use of “social rating” systems in China.

The US has already restricted the activities of several Chinese technology companies, most notably Huawei. The US example was followed by some EU countries and other allies of Washington. Such a confrontation starts the process of artificial division of the countries of the world into at least two camps – those who use Chinese technologies and those who use Western ones.

In this regard, Russia remains approximately in the middle, using both Western and Chinese technologies in the information industry. But Russia is also trying to develop its own technologies. And for the countries of Central Asia, due to the lack of their own skills, the technological choice becomes geopolitical.

Why is the introduction of 5G technologies causing lively debate in the world? Why is Chinese technology a persistent concern? Is China really becoming a leader in information technology, and how might this affect Russia, the countries of Central Asia and the whole world? Whose technologies does Russia choose in the information and digital sphere?

Here we need to start with the fact that China has achieved great success in the field of telecommunications – it is in fifth-generation mobile communication technologies that is called 5G, because in principle, in all cases when we talk about previous generations of mobile communications, China was rather catching up development. Affordable Chinese commercial equipment in the telecommunications market in the world appeared only starting with the third generation of mobile communications.

that is, with 3G. It was then that Huawei began to conquer world markets. But when we talk about 3G and then 4G, then the company ensured its competitiveness of places not so much due to some unique breakthrough technological solutions, but due to the price-quality ratio. That is, Huawei equipment was comparable in quality to equipment from other global vendors, primarily Nokia and Ericsson, but at the same time, it was much cheaper in cost, so Huawei actively conquered world markets.

As far as 5G is concerned, indeed, China has made great strides in terms of the development of this technology. Suffice it to say that China owns about a third of key patents in the field of 5G and the lion’s share of these patents were invented by Huawei. And it was with 5G that this confrontation between the West and China began.

5G communication technologies are not only an increase in data transfer speed, they are, in principle, a completely different network architecture. How all these previous generations were arranged – these were the so-called “radio access networks”, which consisted of higher base stations, that is, signal transmission receptions and the network core. Let’s simply call it a data center. In 5G, the architecture is different – there, radio access networks are also the core of the network at the same time. There, data processing takes place on the transceiver devices. Accordingly, this creates, on the one hand, a certain advantage.

that is, data is processed much faster, more efficiently and completely according to different algorithms, so the network can be divided into so-called several layers, when the same network is simultaneously used both for transmitting a video stream and for intermachine communication. This happens simultaneously, and each does not interfere with each other. That is, for example, if the channel on which high-stream video is transmitted is overloaded, this channel does not affect the data transfer of machine-to-machine communication.

Let’s say if we are talking about the same video call, this is not so critical, although annoying. But if we are talking, for example, about machine-to-machine communication, and self-driving cars, then any, even minimal data transfer delays, can lead to serious consequences, traffic accidents. Therefore, the bottom line is that 5G networks are very multifunctional and their main difference from networks of previous generations is not that they provide faster data transfer rates.

but that they can ensure the simultaneous operation of a huge number of digital devices within one network loop. and provide completely different functionality. For example, it can be telephone communication, holographic calls, high-definition television, Internet broadcasting, machine-to-machine communication of self-driving cars, and so on. All this will be within the same network loop, so this is, in general, really a technological breakthrough.

On the other hand, such a network architecture creates the risk of leaking this data. Because it turns out that one vendor supplies both the so-called “hardware” for receiving transmission and software for them and software for the core of the network on which data is processed. All this, if we are talking about Chinese companies, will be supplied by Huawei.

The United States has grievances over the security policies of Chinese companies, including Huawei. They say that due to the fact that Chinese law obliges private business to cooperate with the special services and, upon request, transfer any data to the special services, respectively. They say that Huawei will have such a huge amount of sensitive data on telecommunications, and yet this data can so easily, by magic, end up in the hands of Chinese intelligence agencies.