It has been coming—and now it’s here. Huawei 5G has gone live in Russia. This isn’t the first 5G pilot to launch in Moscow, but it is the most notable. It is based on an agreement signed between China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin at the 2019 St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF). The context of that discussion went to the heart of the emerging technology split between East and West, and so this launch has real political significance.
Russian network Tele2 went live in Moscow with Ericsson several weeks ago. And now, according to media reports this weekend, competing mobile operator MTS “has teamed up with Chinese tech giant Huawei for a 5G pilot scheme in Moscow—where for the first time the super-fast network will cover almost the entire city.”
5G pilots were not the only Huawei agenda item when Xi met Putin in June. That same meeting touched on the potential for Huawei smartphones to transition to Russian OS Aurora—which had been discussed in more detail between Huawei and Russia’s minister of digital development and communications. Last week, Reuters reported that Huawei is getting set to install Aurora “on 360,000 of its tablets to conduct Russia’s population census next year.” Reuters’ described the pilot as “the first stage of launching the Russian OS on Huawei devices.”
The same leaders’ meeting also covered the emerging tech split between the U.S. and its allies on one side, and China and others—including Russia—on the other. The so-called Splinternet strikes fear in certain intelligence agencies—loss of control, and across major players in the Western tech sector—loss of revenue. And those tech players include the likes of Intel, Qualcomm, Google and Microsoft.
At the time, it was also suggested Huawei might begin some Russian R&D and manufacturing, including “the joint production of chips and software.” The fact that the initial Aurora pilot looks set to be a Russian government program is consistent with the implication that there’s a deeper level of collaboration behind the scenes. Everything is linked.