Five Developments in ICT Supply Chain Security in September
As you may (or may not) be aware, September issues of publications are generally A. Big. Deal. Read on to make sure you’re caught up with the early-fall ICT supply chain-drama.
1. Huawei, Interrupted
The battle is on for 6G, according to Huawei founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei. The Chinese telecommunications giant is gearing up for a race to develop the standards and technologies that global 6G networks—which promise to be even faster than 5G—will rely on.
The stakes are particularly high for Huawei. The past several years have been rough, as the United States government has led a high-profile global effort to ban the company from allied networks and prevent it from accessing a number of key western technologies.
Huawei is fighting back and clearly recognizes that control over 6G technology is its chance to get ahead in the game. If western companies set and own the foundational technologies of 6G, the United States can continue to impede Huawei’s access. But if Huawei controls them, the company may be able to turn the tables on the United States—part of the reason the Biden administration is also throwing new resources at the issue.
For more: Embattled Huawei CFO (and daughter of Ren) Meng Wanzhou was allowed to leave Canada and fly to China last week after U.S. prosecutors dropped the fraud charges against her. Super-duper coincidentally, two Canadians detained on espionage charges in the days after Meng’s arrest were also released for “medical” reasons after “confessing.” Definitely unrelated.
2. Semiconductors fell back—and aren’t poised to spring forward
Temperatures may be cooling, but unfortunately the change in season isn’t ushering in good news for the beleaguered semiconductor industry. Instead, things appear to be getting worse. Average wait times for chip delivery have increased since the summer, production costs are increasing—driving up the purchase price for consumers in turn—and manufacturers are facing a labor shortage to boot.
This is just more bad news for the industries that rely on chips (which are a lot). Toyota and General Motors have both already announced cutbacks in production. Experts are estimating that the great shortage will cost the automotive industry around $210 billion in revenue this year alone.
Some firms are getting creative in their efforts to acquire chips, reaching out through online marketplaces or endeavoring to find alternative sources. But it comes at a cost: they risk running into chip scammers, who have been found selling fake, incorrectly labeled or reused semiconductors to desperate companies.
For more: The White House is trying to step in and help. Last week, the Biden administration followed up on its April semiconductor meeting and brought industry leaders back in—including General Motors and Apple—to posit solutions like increased information sharing to understand the current shortage better and an early-alert system on potential COVID-19 related plant shutdowns.
3. The United States wants an A+ on its group projects
The Biden administration has repeatedly proclaimed its goal to work with allies—cue that famous “America is Back” line. September offered a wealth of opportunities to socialize (sometimes IRL) and noodle on the big, multilateral challenges that the United States can’t make progress on without allied buy-in.
United Nations (UN) High Level week didn’t see much public talk about information and communications technology (ICT) supply chains (vaccines are a different story), perhaps because the usual bilateral side meetings—that is, where most of the action usually happens—were scaled down.
The Quad meeting was a different story. Resolute in its indirectly direct objective of countering China’s rising influence, the group announced a slew of initiatives including a Quad Senior Cyber Group to shape cybersecurity standards, a semiconductor supply chain initiative and a dialogue on open radio access network (RAN) technology. Despite the challenge of coordinating allied action, especially in the age of COVID-19, the Quad wants to make clear that it is putting in the work.
For more: Throwback to U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s positively eccentric 2019 UN speech on the United Kingdom’s future as a tech hub. Also, wondering why Brazil gives the first UN speech every year? Here are a couple of theories as to why—could be useful for your trivia cache.
4. Australia chooses AUK(US)
There’s plenty to unpack in the controversy surrounding the Biden administration’s new deal to sell nuclear-powered submarines to the Australians. Here are our two takeaways:
First, this has been perceived as Australia choosing sides in the Pacific, which is a pretty big deal geopolitically. Contrast this November 2020 article—in which the Australian prime minister (Scott Morrison who?) rejects the need to pick between the U.S.-China “binary”—with this recent analysis claiming that Australia has made its decision, and tied its future to the United States. Of course, there’s always the risk of reading too far into a single move, but this is a move.
Second, the deal sparked a round of criticism, with folks—mostly the French—arguing that Biden “talks the talk” on the importance of alliances but doesn’t “walk the walk”—rather like his predecessor. To our mind, this isn’t really a fair comparison. It’s one thing to pull the rug out on a submarine deal that was already publicly on the rocks, and another to claim to want to leave the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Nonetheless, should the Biden administration better communicate with its allies on tricky issues (ahem: Afghanistan, submarine deal, etc)? Yeah, probably.
For more: In the wild world of defense contracting, France can be accused of being un peu hypocrite… And just in case, here’s a quick reminder that nuclear-powered submarines != nuclear-armed submarines.
5. Who’s got the supply chain solutions?
Ok, we doom-scrolled too much when writing #2, so let’s end on a more hopeful note.
Here’s a selected list of articles on what people, organizations and governments are doing—and how they’re thinking—about making better supply chains or insulating their organizations from the worst of it.
Forbes: “Why Diverse And Inclusive Supply Chains Are Needed and Three Tips To Make It Happen”
The Hill: “How to fix the semiconductor chip shortage (it’s more than manufacturing)”
Inside Cybersecurity: “CISA releases a supply chain task force report addressing liability concerns for information sharing”
Worth the watch: The Wilson Center’s September 16 event, “Confronting the China Conundrum: Perspectives Beyond the United States”
Worth the Skim: The E.U.–U.S. Trade and Technology Council (TTC) held its first meeting on Wednesday, September 29. Here’s its lengthy “Inaugural Joint Statement.” Stay tuned for the next expert-level meeting on export controls, slated for October 27.
The Commerce Department wants YOU: Sound off before November 4 in response to the Bureau of Industry and Security’s request for public comments on “Risks in the Information Communications Technology Supply Chain.”
Thanks for reading, see you next month!
Image credit: your123