Huawei now a surrogate for China threat as US gains some ground

It's getting hard to keep up with the Huawei problem as it evolves rapidly from a network security issue to a China threat surrogate.

That's an unfortunate place to be for any Chinese company right now, with Beijing embroiled in multiple diplomatic disputes, not to mention an actual conflict with India.

It is in India where the pressure on Chinese tech firms is most intense following a border clash last month in which dozens died and resulted in China taking control of a slice of disputed territory.

India has since banned 59 Chinese apps, including WeChat and TikTok. Analysts point out that, despite the 600 million TikTok downloads, India represents a tiny share of total revenue. Still, the apps reportedly have been removed from the app store and are inaccessible even through a VPN, suggesting a certain level of intent.

Like many other countries, India has been grappling with how to deal with Huawei and ZTE in 5G. It has already banned them from supplying the state-owned telcos, MTNL and BSNL.

The privately owned operators are making their own decisions, though. Reliance Jio has gone down the non-Huawei path, but Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea are still counting on Huawei's cost advantage. Despite the anger over the military clash, it is difficult to see India imposing and maintaining a full Huawei ban.

Around the world, only a handful of countries, such as Australia, Taiwan and some East European states, have followed the US lead in outlawing Chinese 5G equipment.

In Asia, Japan and Vietnam have implemented implicit bans, while some small nations like New Zealand and Singapore look to be limiting Huawei without actually announcing a decision. (See Singapore ties up 5G loose ends.)

Want to know more about 5G? Check out our dedicated 5G content channel here on Light Reading.

Other governments, like Canada and the UK, are weighing the Huawei question against some other pressing issues, although Huawei was not among the 5G vendors recently announced by Canadian operators Telus and Bell Canada. (See Huawei ban in UK is surely just a matter of time.)

At a country level quite a number of major economies, including Germany, Spain, Italy and South Korea, still allow Huawei and ZTE equipment in their 5G networks.

But at an operator level the scorecard looks different. In South Korea, the two largest operators, SKT and KT, have spurned Huawei.

US Secretary of State Pompeo has made a point of praising "clean telcos" that have rejected Chinese kit, such as Orange in France, O2 in the UK, Reliance Jio, NTT DoCoMo and Telstra.

So the US has had some success in cutting Chinese vendors off from key operators in the developed world, although of course no developing economy has rejected them.

The telecom industry understands it has long since lost the ability to solve the issue on its own. It belongs firmly in the realm of global geopolitics.

But that doesn't mean industry leaders should stop arguing for good decisions based on sound technology and competition grounds and making use of actual evidence.

— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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