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Canadian operators lock Huawei out of 5G

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All three major Canadian telecommunications operators have decided to use 5G equipment from Scandinavian telecommunications companies Nokia and Ericsson, effectively shutting Huawei out of Canada’s 5G infrastructure.

BCE, which owns Canadian operator Bell, said that Ericsson would supply its 5G radio access network, the non-core peripheral parts of the network. Bell is already working with Nokia on its 5G network. This notably excludes Huawei from Bell’s 5G network.

Rival network operator Telus had indicated as recently as February that it would be using Huawei in its 5G network. However, Telus announced just hours after BCE that it had decided to use Nokia and Ericsson as suppliers for its 5G network, excluding Huawei.

Both Bell and Telus incorporated Huawei equipment into their existing networks.

Canada’s third network operator, Rogers, partnered with long-time collaborator Ericsson to roll out its 5G network, which was switched on in January in Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa, and Montreal. Rogers’ leadership have openly criticised Huawei, with vice chairman Philip Lind saying that it should be banned from playing a part in Canada’s 5G network due to the national security threat it poses.

There is a very limited choice of suppliers for 5G hardware. Shenzhen-based Huawei is considered an attractive 5G supplier by many operators due to its mature yet comparatively low-cost technology.

Huawei, which is the world’s largest telecommunications equipment manufacturer, has found itself at the centre of trade disputes between China and the US. The Trump administration has blacklisted Huawei and urged its allies to cut all ties with the company, claiming that it poses a serious national security threat by exposing mobile networks to espionage. Huawei has consistently denied these accusations.

Numerous countries with warm US relations have banned or effectively banned Huawei and other Chinese tech companies from building their 5G networks, including Australia, Japan, New Zealand and the self-governed island of Taiwan. Canada, which like the UK has allowed Huawei to be involved in building its existing networks, has not made a final decision on whether Huawei should be formally excluded from its 5G networks.

It is likely that network operators have decided that including Huawei in their 5G networks now is not worth the risk of having to backtrack if Huawei is banned in the future.

The UK government announced in January that operators would be permitted to use Huawei equipment for no more than 35 per cent of their non-core infrastructure, with Huawei equipment forbidden from sensitive locations such as military bases and nuclear sites. However, backbench Conservative MPs have threatened a rebellion and called for Huawei to be entirely shut out of the UK’s 5G networks by 2023.

The government has commissioned an emergency security review on the matter from the National Cyber Security Centre. The review is expected to conclude that US sanctions against Huawei – effectively forbidding the company from using technologies with US origins – will make it impossible for Huawei to supply 5G equipment for UK networks as planned. This would give Prime Minister Boris Johnson the green light to U-turn on his previous decision to allow Huawei a limited role in UK 5G networks.

US Senator Tom Cotton told MPs this week that permitting Huawei a role in UK 5G networks would be likely to damage military cooperation and trade deal discussions between the UK and US; the White House has long warned that it would limit intelligence sharing with countries which use Huawei in their 5G networks.

“[Including Huawei] would create some tensions in our abilities to share the most sensitive kinds of intelligence,” Cotton told MPs on the Defence Select Committee. Cotton questioned MPs about why they are “so eager to put a criminal organisation’s technology into [their] networks” and raised Huawei’s alleged cooperation with mass human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

Huawei vice president Victor Zhang commented: “Today’s committee concentrated on America’s desire for a home-grown 5G company that can 'match' or 'beat' Huawei. It’s clear its market position, rather than security concerns, underpins America’s attack on Huawei, as the committee was given no evidence to substantiate security allegations.”

“We welcome open and fair competition as it fosters innovation and drives down costs for everyone,” he continued. “Over the last 20 years, we have worked hard with our customers and partners for building Britain’s robust and secure 3G and 4G networks and we are now focused on delivering the 5G network to the same high standards. This is fundamental to achieving the government’s Gigabit broadband target by 2025.”

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