Australia has joined most of its Five Eyes partners in a new alliance to diversify telecommunications supply chains and coordinate the roll out of 6G networks, after national security fears limited the build of 5G infrastructure.
Announced on Thursday by the UK government, the Global Coalition on Telecommunications (GCOT) includes the UK, Australia, US, Canada and Japan, with representatives from respective infrastructure and communications department to meet twice a year.
The nations will coordinate on the security, resilience, and innovation of telecommunications networks, according to the pact, which has not yet been announced outside the UK.
6G, supply chain diversification, security, skills and standards will be the primary focus of the new coalition.
“The international community needs to work together to foster diverse supply chains, secure and interoperable standards, and innovation – including for the development of future telecommunications technologies such as 6G,” the UK announcement said.
The Turnbull government’s decision to ban Chinese manufacturer Huawei from participating in Australia’s 5G network set off a chain of similar moves around the western world, with Huawei eventually banned from major infrastructure projects in New Zealand, the US, UK and Canada.
Australia’s ban was instituted because the government felt it could not mitigate the risk of a Chinese manufacturer being compelled to cooperate in cyber espionage, but no evidence of espionage was ever publicly confirmed.
“We’re not identifying a smoking gun, but rather a loaded gun…We came to the view that the risk couldn’t be mitigated,” Malcolm Turnbull said years later.
Huawei has claimed the decision left Australia reliant on more expensive Scandinavian equipment that cost operators up to $300 million per year more and limited the public’s access to the 5G network.
The GCOT nations are expected to share information on respective policy approaches to telecommunications, including diversifying supply chains and sharing research and IP between the five nations.
The group will also look to build “innovation bridges” by running parallel projects, jointly funding R&D programs and running hackathons and pitch sessions.
The countries are also expected to explore jointly funding large scale projects “where appropriate” and work together on standards development.
The Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts was approached for comment.
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