Growing international concerns over the security of Huawei 5G networking gear have created a “dilemma” for South Korean mobile carriers, The Korea Times reports today. As the carriers prepare for a national auction of 5G radio spectrum, they must choose between more affordable Huawei network hardware and higher-priced but apparently more secure rival 5G gear.
According to the report, major carriers SK Telecom, KT, and LG Uplus are all on the cusp of selecting their 5G network equipment suppliers, as Korea will allocate 5G radio spectrum in June. Although the carriers have requested equipment proposals from Huawei, Samsung, Nokia, and Ericsson, lobbying by U.S. officials has influenced the Korean carriers to consider bypassing Huawei.
“If Huawei’s equipment is introduced,” said Korean minister of science and ICT Yoo Young-Min, “there is the possibility that various security problems become an issue.” That concern was previously voiced by SK Telecom’s CEO Dong-Hyun Jang at the 2018 Mobile World Congress.
South Korea planned to be one of the world’s earliest countries to offer 5G services, though its carriers most recently have promised 2019 launches that will apparently lag behind the earliest U.S. 2018 deployments. The carriers have considered Huawei gear in part because of aggressive pricing, but also because of the Chinese company’s focus on 3.5GHz radio frequencies. This part of the radio spectrum is adjacent to the 2GHz frequencies currently used for Korean LTE, enabling carriers to more easily build nationwide 5G coverage.
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The controversy over 5G hardware from Huawei and smaller rival ZTE kicked into high gear this January, as U.S. legislators and agencies lobbied U.S. carriers to drop the companies’ products over security concerns. U.S. officials subsequently briefed overseas allies on the potential security threats of hidden “backdoors,” urging them not to use hardware from companies beholden to the Chinese government. Both Chinese companies have denied the U.S. claims, but have been dropped by some U.S. carriers and retailers.
Today’s article notes that Republican members of Congress asked the Pentagon late last year to consider Huawei’s potential security risks to 28,500 troops and U.S. facilities in Korea, a concern that apparently has also factored into the Korean government’s deliberations. No final decision has been made by the carriers or government, but the latter has said it “will work on the commercialization of the 5G network considering those issues.”
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