The U.S. campaign to block Huawei hardware from being used in 5G networks expanded from domestic to international early this year when American officials asked the Australian, Canadian, and South Korean governments to freeze out the Chinese company. Now the effort is expanding, as the U.S. has asked Germany, Italy, and Japan to avoid Huawei gear, the Wall Street Journal reports, and may offer financial aid to countries that comply.
Key to the latest lobbying effort is a concern that Chinese networking gear will be used in countries with U.S. military bases, where most communications go through standard commercial networks rather than the Defense Department’s specially secured networks. Though Huawei equipment is already being used in these countries’ 4G networks, the U.S. is urging governments and telecom executives to block Huawei from 5G networks, eliminating China’s ability to spy on communications or disable elements of 5G-connected factories and infrastructure.
“We engage with countries around the world about our concerns regarding cyberthreats in telecommunications infrastructure,” a U.S. official told the Wall Street Journal. “As they’re looking to move to 5G, we remind them of those concerns. There are additional complexities to 5G networks that make them more vulnerable to cyberattacks.”
Although the U.S. largely settled a potentially company-destroying action against Huawei rival ZTE, the lobbying effort also reportedly includes ZTE gear. Like Huawei, ZTE is expected to provide cellular tower hardware that could compromise and cripple a 5G network’s core, even if the Chinese-made equipment isn’t itself used in building that network core.
Huawei has previously denied U.S. accusations of malicious intent, and said that it was “surprised by the behaviors of the U.S. government” discussed in the new report. “If a government’s behavior extends beyond its jurisdiction,” Huawei said, “such activity should not be encouraged.” ZTE did not comment on the report.
Beyond increasing the breadth of its lobbying efforts, the U.S. is considering financial incentives for steering clear of Chinese networking hardware. Earlier this year, the FCC banned small and rural carriers from using federal subsidies to purchase Huawei and ZTE gear; now the U.S. is considering offering government funding to countries that use non-Chinese equipment, while withholding subsidies for countries buying Chinese hardware.
It remains to be seen whether Germany, Italy, and Japan will ultimately cooperate with the U.S. on the initiative, as their governments and carriers are facing well-established realities: Huawei gear is affordable, available, and already being used in their pre-5G networks. One major Italian carrier called ignoring Huawei “a very tough call” because of its leadership position in the telecom industry, where it has used aggressive prices, solid quality, and carrier customization to win business.