Cisco CEO touts "huge misconception" around the US-China trade war and 5G

Chuck Robbins claims banning Huawei infrastructure tech won't neuter 5G potential despite "ignorance" around vendors

Chuck Robbins Cisco CEO

Cisco CEO and chairman Chuck Robbins has claimed there's a "huge misconception" around the US-China trade war, specifically targeting those who think that ousting Huawei will cause an industry-wide slowdown.

As Robbins kicked off a press conference at the company's Live conference, he prefaced the proceedings by claiming he could predict a few of things we'd ask him and, of course, we couldn't let the Cisco leader leave the room without asking him about the US-China trade war and the ban on Huawei, given Cisco's position as an infrastructure provider. From the look on his face, it was clear that this was one of those predicted topics.

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He said that there's no reason to believe that banning one vendor would cause a massive industry slowdown, providing everyone takes a multi-vendor approach. If a nation or an organisation chooses to build with one vendor only, then it will affect them, but not the industry as a whole.

"I think there's a lot of ignorance about 5G around the world, to be honest," said Robbins. "It's not like there's one vendor that can build 5G networks - this is a fallacy.

"The reality is that Ericcson, Nokia and Samsung have great 5G macro-radio technology today and beyond that, we have virtually everything else you need to build 5G networks. So, I haven't seen any [industry-wide] slowdown and I think there's a huge misconception that this US-China trade war could have that effect.

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"If you're solely focussed on one vendor and that's the only way you plan on building out, then it might slow you down but as an industry, it doesn't slow us down."

British mobile network operators such as Three and Vodafone, both of which have committed to 2019 5G launch dates, have said in the past months that banning Huawei equipment could delay 5G rollout in the country; Three's David Dyson told the BBC that it could be delayed by as much as 18 months.

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Despite the allegations brought against Huawei, Britain's rollout is world-leading with only the US and South Korea beating the UK to the punch.

5G vision

Another topic that's on everyone's lips is 5G and we were especially keen to find out more about Cisco's and Robbins' vision for 5G in industry.

Uncertainty clouds 5G, even though EE recently launched its 5G network in the UK, around the small matter of whether it will be a fixed-line killer or what the real use case for it will be. The overarching theme from the first day of Cisco Live is that it's something worth getting excited about but it won't ever be the paragon of networking.

But while it's not quite going to be a hard-hitting, hyped-up networking service for the modern age it has been touted to be, Robbins suggested it will certainly play a huge role in business and it will co-exist with Wi-Fi but businesses may end up choosing one or the other.

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"This 5G transition is a multi-year transition, so I can tell you I'll be retired for many, many, many years before [5G ever replaces Wi-Fi]," said Robbins.

"I'll take you back to the early 90s where Wi-Fi became so popular - Wi-Fi was going to be the end of switchboards, we were never going to sell another Ethernet switch because of wireless and a couple of quarters back, we had the largest revenue quarter for switching in the history of the company. So that obviously didn't happen.

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"I think that 5G is a spectrum-based solution and there will places where customers will ultimately make a decision: can I use 5G or can I use Wi-Fi? [This will be] depending on spectrum, clarity of signal - all those kinds of things, but I think they'll peacefully co-exist for a very long time."

There's also the small matter of security to contend with when it comes to 5G. With more network bandwidth and faster speeds, businesses are particularly fearful of DDoS attacks that are already pervasive threats to businesses but could become even more damaging if 5G powers a business' network.

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Robbins said that 5G security is being treated with equal importance as everything else is in Cisco's expansive portfolio of products. He understands the fears that his customers have, particularly around IoT and the enlarged attack surface of a company that deploys an IoT network.

"Security in 5G is going to be incredibly important, just like it is today. We're delivering the security across the global internet so I'm not sure that there's this big new secret in delivering security over 5G," said Robbins. 

"I think there different technologies that we use, there are different issues but we've been dealing with this evolving landscape forever. 5G may introduce more 5G connectivity which might continue to increase the threat landscape, so we made a security acquisition this week in the IoT space which is an example of us continuing to expand our portfolio.

"If you look at the Mobile World Congress attendees, 70% of the service providers said they expect most of their problems to come from enterprises, and if anyone knows how to build enterprise services with carriers - it's us. So, those are some of the areas we're going to keep working on with our customers ahead of 5G rollouts."

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