Is Huawei a supplier that can't be trusted? Its sales numbers and the constantly expanding customer base of Tier 1 operators suggest otherwise. Is former Alcatel-Lucent exec Mike Quigley, who heads up Australia's NBN project, the reason? I wonder how many headaches Huawei caused him during his tenure and I wouldn't be shocked if he wanted to return the favor.
Perhaps the Aussies are following the lead of the U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI). In November, that committee began an investigation of Huawei and ZTE that was supposed to "review the extent to which these companies provide the Chinese government an opportunity for greater foreign espionage, threaten our critical infrastructure, and further the opportunity for Chinese economic espionage."
We ask Huawei what they're up to all the time. Huawei says again and again that it is an employee-owned company and its motives for expansion include making more money for its workers, adding more jobs, expanding its business, etc. The HPSCI cautioned businesses about dealing with Huawei until the firm's motives "could be fully determined." There may be other motives that I'm not aware of. I'd love to know more. (See Huawei, ZTE Probed by Intelligence Agency.)
Is the Australian government also unsure of Huawei's motives, despite the vendor's roster of big customers? Or would it just prefer not to invite the scrutiny that comes with having Huawei involved?
What follows is a partially edited statement from Jeremy Mitchell, Huawei's corporate affairs director in Australia, which I received when I inquired about today's news:
While we’re obviously disappointed by the decision, Huawei will continue to be open and transparent and work to find ways of providing assurance around the security of our technology.
Huawei partners with every major operator in Australia and 45 of the world’s top 50 operators. This year, Huawei is on track to become the world’s largest telecoms equipment vendor. You don’t get to that level of success unless you have customers that trust your company, your staff, and your technology.
Network security is an issue which affects governments, operators, end-users and vendors alike. Addressing security issues must be done collaboratively and cooperatively -- no single entity can resolve the challenges posed by network security. Individuals and governments around the world are still coming to grips with the emergence of the new China which is an innovation leader.
As China’s largest private company, Huawei is at the forefront of that -- being the world’s number-one company for new patent applications in 2008. While network security is an issue for all vendors, the real risk is missing out on the innovation China has to offer.
The questions left unaddressed are many: Did excluding Huawei from the national broadband network (NBN) project make Australia safer? What, exactly, does leaving Huawei out protect the country from?
— Phil Harvey, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading