The US ban on Chinese tech giant Huawei and its 5G technology has sparked a heated debate on the future of information flows and their control.
Until now, however, that debate has largely overlooked how Huawei arrived at its position of tech prowess.
The Five Eyes intelligence group (United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom) insist that Huawei 5G technology represents a huge intelligence risk.
Huawei flatly denies the accusation. Meanwhile, trillions of dollars in 5G revenue are at stake. Shutting down Huawei also has an extra benefit for the US — it temporarily halts Chinese progress in this extremely lucrative sector.
But how did Huawei get so far ahead in the first place? Well, according to a piece in Wired and carried by androidcentral, it all comes down to a theory crafted in 1948 and recently revived by a Turkish professor.
Claude Shannon worked at Bell Labs in the 1940s and it was his job to understand everything there was to know about information transport and storage. We’re talking the future of the internet here.
One important bit of work was looking at channel capacity: how much data can be accurately transmitted after electrical noise was accounted for, Wired reported.
Some 40 years later, the solution was to approach the issue by what’s known as LDPC (low-density parity-check). This is a method of fixing data errors on the fly.
It has evolved into a viable and robust series of calculations that are actually used for data transfer, including 5G networking by companies like Qualcomm, Wired reported.
But a Turkish professor named Erdal Arikan, who had spent years studying the problems of data noise at Cal Tech and MIT and helped found Turkey’s first private research institution and engineering school, had bigger ideas. Eventually, he theory-crafted what he calls “Polar Codes,” Wired reported.
Polar Coding copies all the noise from a channel onto a clone of the channel, creating one copy with no noise and one copy with all the noise.
If the clean channel has errors, the dirty channel can be error checked. If it doesn’t, you roll with it at very high transmission rates. In other words, it’s a lot faster and more data can be crunched by the chips that power 5G telecom equipment, Wired reported.
While Arikan didn’t think this theory was practical, Huawei did and ran with it.
After Nortel’s demise in 2009 — you might remember how those patents were allegedly snatched up by a Chinese group — Huawei convinced the entire Ottawa-based Nortel research lab to stay together under new management.
There, the final issue with polar codes (they weren’t particularly suited to 5G short bursts of data) was overcome, and Huawei started working on filing patents and trying to make polar codes part of the 5G standard.
When the 5G NR (New Radio) standards were set in 2016, Huawei came out a winner.
The current 5G NR standards use LDPC for sent data, and Polar Codes control how the data is moved. Huawei equipment can move data better than its competitors because the standards use ideas and code that Huawei developed.
Huawei actually holds ten times as many Polar Code patents as its closest rival.
We also know the US had its chance — Arikan, now recognized as the “Father of Polar Coding” — tried to sell the idea to both Qualcomm and Seagate, but his ideas were declined.
Whether the US-led ban on Huawei’s network equipment is warranted or not, many countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and South America will be using Huawei and its Polar Code-powered equipment in their networks.