Calls for Huawei boy­cott get mixed re­sponse in Europe

Kuwait Times - - Business -

PARIS: Europe is giv­ing US-led calls for a boy­cott of Huawei 5G tele­coms equip­ment a mixed re­cep­tion, with some gov­ern­ments un­trou­bled by spy sus­pi­cions against the Chi­nese gi­ant, but oth­ers back­ing a ban.

In the lat­est set­back for the com­pany, Huawei said Satur­day it had fired an em­ployee in Poland who was ar­rested there a day ear­lier on sus­pi­cion of spy­ing for China. “His al­leged ac­tions have no re­la­tion to the com­pany”, Huawei said in a state­ment to AFP.

Huawei had al­ready seen the ar­rest of the daugh­ter of the firm’s founder in Canada and US ef­forts to black­list the com­pany in­ter­na­tion­ally over se­cu­rity con­cerns.

Sev­eral Asian and Pa­cific coun­tries have fol­lowed Wash­ing­ton’s call for a Huawei ban, but the pic­ture in Europe is more nu­anced, not least be­cause Huawei’s 5G ca­pa­bil­i­ties are so at­trac­tive. They are well ahead of Swe­den’s Eric­s­son, Fin­land’s Nokia and South Ko­rea’s Sam­sung, an­a­lysts say.

Fifth gen­er­a­tion (5G) tech­nol­ogy rep­re­sents a quan­tum leap in wire­less com­mu­ni­ca­tion speed, and will be key to de­vel­op­ing the in­ter­net of things, in­clud­ing self-driv­ing cars. That is why Europe wants to de­ploy it as quickly as pos­si­ble.

“Op­er­a­tors have looked at al­ter­na­tives but have re­al­ized that Huawei is cur­rently more in­no­va­tive and prob­a­bly bet­ter for 5G,” said Dex­ter Thillien, an an­a­lyst at Fitch So­lu­tions.

‘Com­pe­tence’ and ‘tal­ent’ Huawei has faced in­creas­ing scru­tiny over its al­leged links to Chi­nese in­tel­li­gence ser­vices, prompt­ing not

just the US but also Aus­tralia and Ja­pan to block it from build­ing their 5G in­ter­net net­works.

But in Europe, Por­tu­gal’s main op­er­a­tor MEO signed a deal with Huawei in De­cem­ber dur­ing a visit by Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping, prais­ing the Chi­nese com­pany’s “know how, com­pe­tence, tal­ent and ca­pac­ity to de­velop tech­nol­ogy and in­vest in our coun­try”. By con­trast Nor­way, whose cur­rent net­works are for the most part made up of Huawei equip­ment, is think­ing of ways to re­duce its “vul­ner­a­bil­ity”, ac­cord­ing to the Nordic coun­try’s trans­port and com­mu­ni­ca­tions min­is­ter quoted in the lo­cal press-es­pe­cially to­wards coun­tries with whom Oslo “has no se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion”, an im­plicit ref­er­ence to China.

Bri­tain’s De­fence Sec­re­tary Gavin Wil­liamson mean­while said he had “grave, very deep con­cerns about Huawei pro­vid­ing the 5G net­work in Bri­tain”. The Czech cy­ber­se­cu­rity agency said that Chi­nese laws “force pri­vate com­pa­nies with their head­quar­ters in China to co­op­er­ate with in­tel­li­gence ser­vices”, which could make them “a threat” if in­volved with a coun­try’s key tech­nol­ogy.

‘Ex­pen­sive but bet­ter’ Ger­many is un­der pres­sure from Wash­ing­ton to fol­low suit, news mag­a­zine Der Spiegel re­ported. But the coun­try’s IT watch­dog says it had seen no ev­i­dence Huawei could use its equip­ment to spy for Bei­jing.

Mean­while, tele­com op­er­a­tors across Europe, un­der heavy pres­sure to roll out 5G quickly, seem to be play­ing down se­cu­rity fears be­cause us­ing Huawei makes busi­ness sense to them.

“Huawei is much more ex­pen­sive to­day than its com­peti­tors but it’s also much bet­ter,” said a spokesper­son at a Euro­pean op­er­a­tor who asked not to be named be­cause of the sen­si­tive na­ture of the mat­ter. The qual­ity of Huawei’s equip­ment “is re­ally ahead” of its Euro­pean com­peti­tors, he added.

Fur­ther­more, “ev­ery­where in Europe, op­er­a­tors are the tar­get of huge con­trols in that area and Huawei’s equip­ment has never been found to be at fault”.

To add to the con­fu­sion, large op­er­a­tors could re­ject Huawei equip­ment in some of their mar­kets, but not in oth­ers. His­toric French op­er­a­tor Or­ange has said that it won’t use Huawei net­works in France, but could very well do so in Spain and Poland.

High stakes in Europe Ger­many’s Deutsche Telekom an­nounced a deal with Huawei for its fu­ture 5G net­work in Poland, but hasn’t said what it will do in Ger­many it­self. Mean­while, Huawei is mak­ing great ef­forts to prove its good faith. It has opened test labs for its equip­ment in Ger­many and the UK in co­op­er­a­tion with the gov­ern­ments there, and is to launch an­other in Brus­sels by the end of the first quar­ter.

The stakes are high: Europe is a cru­cial mar­ket for Huawei, whose com­bined sales for Europe, the Mid­dle East and Africa ac­counted for 27 per­cent of over­all group sales in 2017, mostly thanks to spend­ing by Euro­pean op­er­a­tors. Huawei ro­tat­ing chair­man Guo Ping in late De­cem­ber com­plained that his com­pany was be­ing sub­jected to “in­cred­i­bly un­fair treat­ment”.

“Huawei has never and will never present a se­cu­rity threat,” Guo wrote in a New Year’s mes­sage to staff.

Some an­a­lysts doubt that even a wide­spread ban on Chi­nese tele­coms net­works equip­ment could pos­si­bly guar­an­tee wa­ter­tight se­cu­rity. “In Paris alone, there are more than a mil­lion Huawei smart­phones. If you want to lis­ten in, that’s how many op­por­tu­ni­ties you have,” said a sec­tor spe­cial­ist. —AFP

LAS VE­GAS: At­ten­dees walk be­tween the booth of Chi­nese con­sumer elec­tron­ics com­pa­nies Huawei and Changhong, on the last day of CES 2019, on Satur­day at the Las Ve­gas Con­ven­tion Cen­ter in Las Ve­gas, Ne­vada. —AFP

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