How Huawei Gained A Foothold In The U.S.

The U.S. government and the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei have been locked in battle for the future of wireless technology with U.S. Officials concerned that the company will give Beijing a backdoor for intelligence gathering.

While telecom companies try to develop the next generation of wireless technology and the U.S. and China fight to determine which country will lead the world in its introduction, there are parts of rural America that have not emerged into the world of 4G. It is here that despite the Administration’s concerns, Huawei has found a foothold in the American market and where a T-Mobile and Sprint say they could provide 5G coverage if their merger would be allowed to proceed.

The Rural Wireless Association, which seeks to provide wireless technology to rural America, counts Huawei as one of its members. RWA also opposes the T-Mobile/Sprint merger, saying it would raise costs for rural America. According to an FCC report, RWA estimates that 25 percent of its members would be impacted if Huawei were to be banned in the United States.

Despite having Huawei as a member, RWA has publicly warned that the potential merger threatened national security. “It’s not just a national security issue. It plays into the whole race-to-5G, and how do you keep Huawei from getting ahead of others,” General Counsel Carri Bennet told Bloomberg in December. RWA’s Twitter account contains multiple instances of them thanking Huawei for their sponsoring various events and for their support. The association did not return multiple requests for comment.

Critics of the merger also argued that both T-Mobile and Sprint are owned by the German Deutsche Telekom AG and the Japanese SoftBank, both use Huawei technology. Given their foreign parent companies, T-Mobile and Sprint required approval from The Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. to see if any merger would pose a threat to national security. Less than a week after Bennet’s comments to Bloomberg, CFIUS gave its approval after Deutsche Telekom and SoftBank appeared to be willing to drop Huawei to win approval, according to Reuters.

Robert McDowell, a former FCC Commissioner, says the race to 5G is “very important.” He says being the first to 4G “benefited patent holders and enabled test beds of innovation such as Silicon Valley… to develop the app economy.” McDowell warned that if other countries, not just China, get their first it could displace the U.S. and other countries could get their own Silicon Valleys.

The first generation of wireless technology, or 1G, was launched in 1983 in the form of the first cell phones. 2G entered the market eleven years later in 1992, enabling users to send text messages for the first time. In 2001, 3G saw the introduction of mobile gaming, the ability to conduct video calls, and streaming capabilities. 4G, introduced in 2010, saw increased speed for users for higher amounts of data, increased download speeds, and high-definition, according to CTIA.

5G represents “the next evolution of wireless,” Robert McDowell told the NewsBusters. McDowell described 5G technology as having “increased computing power and better use of radio frequencies” and that it would be “much more powerful” and “a hundred times faster than 4G.” 4G may have introduced the world to Uber, but McDowell predicts 5G will yield even more groundbreaking tech. “There will never be a lost airline once we get the internet of things,” McDowell said, citing missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370.

The race for 5G is not just being contested by various telecom companies, but by countries in order to secure economic and security benefits. The Chinese telecom company Huawei and the Trump Administration have been locked in a worldwide battle over who is going to lead the world into the next generation of wireless technology.

The federal government has banned federal agencies from using Huawei, prompting a lawsuit from Huawei alleging that such a ban violates the Bill of Attainder clause. McDowell cites corporate espionage as one of the things the U.S. should be concerned with when it comes to dealing with Huawei. Meanwhile, T-Mobile and Sprint have made the push for 5G one of the selling points of their proposed merger. Huawei pleaded not guilty on February 28 to steeling T-Mobile trade secrets, according to the Washington Post.

In response to a statement request regarding the Chinese government’s ties with Huawei, the Chinese Embassy in Washington directed the NewsBusters to a South China Morning Post interview of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei. Ren, a Communist Party member, retired army officer, and Meng’s father, told the SCMP that “Huawei is an independent business organization. When it comes to cybersecurity and privacy protection, we are committed to siding with our customers. We will never harm an nation or any individual.” He went on, “China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has officially clarified that no law in China requires any company to install back doors. Neither Huawei, nor I personally, have ever received any requests from any government to provide improper information.”

When the SCMP asked Ren about he would do if the Ministry of State Security came asking information on a foreign country, something Huawei could not refuse, Ren replied “We will never do anything to harm the interests of our customers… We would rather shut Huawei down than do anything that would damage the interests of our customers in order to seek our own gains.”

McDowell would not say that Ren was lying, but noted that “U.S. intelligence agencies are convinced” that Huawei poses a serious threat. “What happens in China, private enterprise there is different,” McDowell said.

Column Foreign Policy Asia China
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