Who Benefits from 5G?

The Financial Times (FT) ran a somewhat mixed piece on the future of 5G. The thesis is that telecom operators are anxious to realise the financial benefits of 5G deployments but, at the same time, these benefits were always expected to come in the forthcoming years; there was little, if any, expectation that financial benefits would happen immediately as the next-generation infrastructures were deployed.

The article correctly notes that consumers are skeptical of the benefits of 5G while, also, concluding by correctly stating that 5G was really always about the benefits that 5G Standalone will have for businesses. This is, frankly, a not great piece in terms of editing insofar as it combines two relatively distinct things without doing so in a particularly clear way.

5G Extended relies on existing 4G infrastructures. While there are theoretically faster speeds available to consumers, along with a tripartite spectrum band segmentation that can be used,1 most consumers won’t directly realise the benefits. One group that may, however, benefit (and that was not addressed at all in this piece) are rural customers. Opening up the lower-frequency spectrum blocks will allow 5G signals to travel farther with the benefit significantly accruing to those who cannot receive new copper, coax, or fibre lines. This said, I tend to agree with the article that most of the benefits of 5G haven’t, and won’t, be directly realised by individual mobile subscribers in the near future.2

5G Standalone is really where 5G will theoretically come alive. It’s, also, going to require a whole new way of designing and securing networks. At least as of a year or so ago, China was a global leader here but largely because they had comparatively poor 4G penetration and so had sought to leapfrog to 5G SA.3 This said, American bans on semiconductors to Chinese telecoms vendors, such as Huawei and ZTE, have definitely had a negative effect on the China’s ability to more fully deploy 5G SA.

In the Canadian case we can see investments by our major telecoms into 5G SA applications. Telus, Rogers, and Bell are all pouring money into technology clusters and universities. The goal isn’t to learn how much faster consumers’ phones or tablets can download data (though new algorithms to better manage/route/compress data are always under research) but, instead, to learn how how to take advantage of the more advanced business-to-business features of 5G. That’s where the money is, though the question will remain as to how well telecom carriers will be able to rent seek on those features when they already make money providing bandwidth and services to businesses paying for telecom products.

  1. Not all countries, however, are allocating the third, high-frequency, band on the basis that its utility remains in doubt. ↩︎
  2. Incidentally: it generally just takes a long, long time to deploy networks. 4G still isn’t reliably available across all of Canada, such as in populated rural parts of Canada. This delay meaningfully impedes the ability of farmers, as an example, to adopt smart technologies that would reduce the costs associated with farm and crop management and which could, simultaneously, enable more efficient crop yields. ↩︎
  3. Western telecoms, by comparison, want to extend the life of the capital assets they purchased/deployed around their 4G infrastructures and so prefer to go the 5G Extended route to start their 5G upgrade path. ↩︎

Rogers reports sharp drop in police demands for customer data

Rogers reports sharp drop in police demands for customer data:

Christopher Parsons, a researcher at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, said Rogers’ commitment to regularly releasing such data is commendable. Yet, he argued the company could go even further with certain aspects of its report, such as including information about when it discloses to customers that a law enforcement request has been made.

He noted that authorities are required to notify individuals who have been subject to wiretap requests or any intercept of live information. However, he said requests for stored data do not trigger a statutory requirement to inform the person that they were under investigation and unless the information is introduced in a court proceeding, they would never know.

“Rogers could advance the privacy discussion in Canada that much more by trying to push government and law enforcement agencies to let the company disclose that their customers were subject to a request,” Mr. Parsons said.



Police asked telcos for client data in over 80% of criminal probes

Police asked telcos for client data in over 80% of criminal probes:

In recent years, civil liberty advocates, journalists and Canada’s privacy watchdog have repeatedly sought details on the frequency with which telecom companies hand over data to police officers.

Not all are convinced that the 80-95 per cent estimate is accurate.

“How exactly did they derive such high numbers? What is the methodology?” asks Chris Parsons, a post-doctoral fellow at Citizen Lab, an academic unit at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs.

“If it is sound, that indicates an incredibly high rate, assuming that all crimes or all investigations are some way linked with telecommunications data.”

Last year, TekSavvy, Rogers and Telus became the first telecommunications companies to release transparency reports — following in the footsteps of their U.S. counterparts and spurred to action by a questionnaire sent by a group of academics led by Parsons. Bell Canada was alone among the large telcos not to issue a report.

Previously released government documents suggested that Public Safety officials worried that the firms might divulge “sensitive operational details” in their reports.

The federal department sought advice on whether any potential legal issues might exist around the disclosure of how telecommunication companies interacted with police, the newly released ministerial briefing says.

“If I were being very charitable, it could be a way to assuage the concerns that ISPs [internet service providers] may have had,” said Parsons. “Less charitably, it could also mean that Public Safety was interested in seeing if there was a way to prevent the reports from coming out.”

Many internet and phone service providers cited potential legal issues — along with a litany of other reasons — as why they failed to disclose any figures.



Evening Brief: Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Evening Brief: Tuesday, May 26, 2015:

A new report from Citizen Lab at the Munk School says “Canadian telecommunications providers have been handing over vast amounts of customer information to law enforcement and government departments and agencies with little transparency or oversight,” reports CBC. “We conclude that serious failures in transparency and accountability indicate that corporations are failing to manage Canadians’ personal information responsibly,” says the report. “Access to our private communications is incredibly sensitive,” said Christopher Parsons, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher at Citizen Lab.


Mapping The Canadian Government’s Telecommunications Surveillance

Mapping The Canadian Government’s Telecommunications Surveillance:


Canadian federal government agencies, like many government agencies around the world, often request user data from telecommunications agencies for the purpose of surveillance. With few regulations in place that force governments or corporations to explain how Canadians’ telecommunications information is accessed or processed, the Citizen Lab along with its’ partners, worked over the course of a year to compile and disseminate lawfully accessible data that showed how often, for what reasons, and on what legal grounds telecommunications companies in Canada provided their subscribers’ data to state agencies.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a series of Counter-Surveillance Success Stories and my work over the past year’s been recognized in the stories. It’s really exceptional the excellent work that people are doing all around the world – you should check them all out!


Poor record of fed requests to telecom companies for Canadians’ data

Poor record of fed requests to telecom companies for Canadians’ data:

Many law-enforcement agencies do not track requests for private information, making the system vulnerable to abuse

“Many departments say they don’t have the information and say they don’t keep track of these things,” said NDP MP Charmaine Borg, whose questions led to the release of response documents. “… And if that is the case, that brings up to me a huge problem. How are we supposed to ensure there are no abuses, and that government agencies are making these requests within very extreme circumstances, when they don’t even keep track of when they’re making them?”

Christopher Parsons, a postdoctoral fellow at the Citizen Lab of the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, said non-federal agencies, such as police forces, are also seeking data. “Even if we got good numbers from all the federal government, there is a huge, huge part of the surveillance iceberg that’s yet to be seen,” he said.

It’s important to keep in mind that much of the attention concerning government surveillance has been about how federal agencies access telecommunications data, and how proposed lawful access legislation would extend and expand such access. While this attention is deserved there is an entirely different set of actors that have yet to be examined in any sustained way: provincial agencies and municipal organizations.


Canadian ISPs Won’t Tell You Much About Your Own Data

Canadian ISPs Won’t Tell You Much About Your Own Data:

Ever wondered how long your telecom provider retains your user data? Or if law enforcement has requested your records?

This “Access My Info” tool was launched in June, and now, responses have started to trickle back in.

“We’re starting to be able to compare and contrast some of the larger company’s responses,” Parsons said.

Using either Parsons’ form letter, or the AMI tool, subscribers can request that their telecom providers clarify the types of data they collect, tell them how long they retain such data, provide copies of relevant records, and whether their information has been disclosed to law enforcement or government agencies. But perhaps unsurprisingly, policies and practices tend to differ from one provider to the next.

“I think that the letters from TekSavvy are comprehensive. They’re not trying to play games,” Parsons said, referring to the responses sent out by one of Canada’s smaller  internet service providers. “They’re actually taking seriously the questions that individuals are making and not trying to blow them off. That stands in variance with, I would say, almost every other member of the industry.”

Parsons said that in other responses, “the detail that is present, or is more often the case, absent, is really quite breathtaking. The only thing I have from Bell is a one page sheet that’s almost worse than useless. It almost doesn’t respond to the customer’s question.”

Parsons told me that discerning how long certain types of data are retained has proven particularly hard, for example.

“Retention schedules matter. How long you store data should not be a top secret corporate secret, because it’s about citizens,” said Parsons. ”Here we’re talking about basic, basic, basic privacy information. How long do you store information about me? None of these companies aside from TekSavvy have tried to comprehensively respond to that question.“

This is a detailed piece by Matt Braga, and one that I’d highly recommend if you’re interested what the Telecom Transparency Project has (and hasn’t) learned about Canadian telecommunications companies’ data retention schedules.


Telus joins transparency push by sharing demands for customer info

Telus joins transparency push by sharing demands for customer info :

TELUS is to be congratulated for following through on their promise to release a transparency, report, as well as for committing to publishing future reports. At this point, two of the largest telecom in Canada (Rogers and TELUS) along with a leading independent telecom (TekSavvy) have released transparency reports: where’s Bell and all the smaller companies?


Rogers sheds new light on what personal data spy agencies can get

Rogers sheds new light on what personal data spy agencies can get:

Comments yield insights into a largely hidden relationship between intelligence agencies and communications corporations Federal spy agencies are, like police, “obviously going to have to get a lot more production orders than they did in the past,” one of Canada’s Big Three communications companies says.

And while Ottawa’s agents had been getting warrantless access to some corporately held records, “we have not opened up our metadata to the government as apparently has happened in the U.S.”

Rogers Communications’ vice-president of regulatory affairs, Ken Engelhart, made these and other remarks about his company’s relationships with federal intelligence-agencies, as he spoke to The Globe’s Christine Dobby about corporate transparency in an interview this week.

Such remarks, not published until now, are important because they yield some insights into a largely hidden relationship between intelligence agencies and communications corporations.

But even as Rogers is now publicizing its bona fides as a telecom company that acts more openly than most, it is privately admitting to customers that it can face federal gag orders.

“We are unable to confirm with a customer when their information has been disclosed to a government institution… where that institution has refused to allow Rogers to disclose that information,” reads one such July 10 letter obtained by The Globe and Mail from privacy researcher Christopher Parsons, of University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab.

That Rogers is, in essence, playing a game of Catch-22 (if we told you we didn’t disclose your information, then others could see if they got a different response and learn we had disclosed their information, therefore we can’t tell anyone if we disclosed their information) is absurd. As is their refusal to provide basic records to their subscribers.


Telecoms move in right direction on privacy: Editorial

Telecoms move in right direction on privacy: 

It’s important to note that, while warrants will be required for police, they won’t necessarily be required for any agencies that already enjoy statutory authority to request information from telecommunications companies. So security agencies will continue to access data, often without warrant, despite what the Star has written.