New $60B agency seeking 'viable alternatives' to Huawei

The DFC could play a significant role in funding telecom projects.

Robert Clark, Contributing Editor, Special to Light Reading

February 21, 2020

2 Min Read
New $60B agency seeking 'viable alternatives' to Huawei

You can hardly accuse US officials of lacking imagination.

As well as coming up with schemes to stymie Huawei, they're also working their way through ideas to develop an alternative. So far these have included: invest in a vendor; develop 5G software; and promote open RAN.

One former official is arguing that virtualization is the solution.

"The initial radio signal from a mobile device is connected to the internet and almost all functionality is built into software, largely through cloud computing. This avoids the proprietary hardware base that Huawei exploits," Thomas J. Duesterberg, a former Commerce Department official and now at the Hudson Institute, wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

Can't argue with that, but Duesterberg might have to wait quite a long time before that becomes the norm.

Despite all this creative policy-making on the run, the US does have a new weapon in the tech and trade wars – a revamped export and development agency, the US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), which took over from two previous organizations when it was formally launched in December.

The DFC's priority is to support US companies, but its investment cap has been doubled to $60 billion and it has the ability to take equity stakes as well as dish out loans.

At this scale it can counter one of the biggest advantages enjoyed by Huawei and ZTE – the billions of dollars in Chinese bank credit that helps customers buy their gear.

Telecom is a priority for DFC, says CEO Adam Boehler. "The US is very focused on ensuring there's a viable alternative to Huawei and ZTE. We don't want to be out there saying no. We want to be out there saying yes," he said in an interview with Bloomberg.

But DFC's first move in telecom is not in wireless, but in long-haul cable. It is backing a new subsea cable that will link Singapore, Indonesia and the US.

On completion, the Trans-Pacific Network (TPN) will be one of the longest ever to be built, and is expected to serve other markets in Southeast Asia and the Pacific as well as the initial three destinations.

The TPN doesn't yet have any telco partners, but with funding guaranteed and the backing of the US and Indonesian governments, it is almost certain to go ahead.

Next, Boehler cited Ethiopia's telecom privatization as a project DFC "can play in." He noted that while no US companies were involved, Vodafone looked likely to be a bidder.

Behind all the noise around Huawei, DFC could emerge as an important new player in global telecom: a thumb on the scale for non-Chinese vendors as well as a potential path to Huawei alternatives.

— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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About the Author(s)

Robert Clark

Contributing Editor, Special to Light Reading

Robert Clark is an independent technology editor and researcher based in Hong Kong. In addition to contributing to Light Reading, he also has his own blog,  Electric Speech ( 

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