Chinese Cellular IoT Radio Modules Pose An Alarming US National Security Risk

Over the past year, as tensions have intensified with China over the South China Sea and Taiwan, the United States has begun to focus on Chinese Communist Party (CCP) influenced businesses and organizations operating or providing services in the US. Perhaps the most prevalent example of this is TikTok, and the concern that the social media platform is not only a propaganda tool for the CCP, but also a backdoor into the lives and devices of US citizens. However, the TikTok app affects a somewhat narrow subset of people here in the US, whereas Chinese-made Internet-Of-Things (IoT) cellular modules could reach out and touch exponentially more US citizens.

What Is The IoT And Who Are the Players?

Internet of Things (IoT) is a term bandied about quite often, though it is sometimes unclear what it refers to exactly. In short, IoT is the name given to any device that can receive, process, and/or send data to other devices or systems via the Internet or other Internet-attached communication networks. This could include smart home devices, vehicles, critical infrastructure, or any other internet-connected device, thus making its reach and scope very broad. Despite this broad spectrum, there is specific concern over cellular connectivity modules that provide the actual connectivity capabilities to IoT devices.

In the connectivity module space, there are many players, including those you may have heard of, like Huawei, who encountered issues with telecom equipment, and some you may not have heard of like, Quectel and Fibocom. Regardless of whether you are familiar with these companies, all of them provide products like 4G LTE and 5G modules to international companies, which then further distribute these products on-board devices and applications of their own, such as smart city infrastructure, drones, body cameras worn by first responders, and even critical infrastructure like public utilities. This manufacturing and supply chain dynamic has thereby allowed these connectivity modules to fly under the radar of national security concerns as just another component or subsystem of a random product or device. As such, these modules might just prove to be one of the largest security concerns the US has ever faced as a nation.


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