Surprise! Sprint Still Has Huawei in Its Network

Sprint still has Huawei equipment in its wireless network, Light Reading has learned, despite promising US authorities three years ago that it would remove the Chinese vendor's technology.

The operator has confirmed it is currently using mobile broadband equipment from Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. "The equipment all resides on the network we acquired from Clearwire [in 2013]," Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) spokeswoman Adrienne Norton confirmed in an email to Light Reading earlier this month.

This looks set to re-ignite the debate about the use of Chinese technology in US communications networks and is certain to attract the attention of US government departments and committees involved in national security issues.

That's because Sprint assured US government officials in March 2013 that it would not use Huawei equipment in its network and that any Huawei technology used by Clearwire, which Sprint was in the process of acquiring, would be replaced or removed. (See Sprint, Softbank: No Huawei in Our Network.)

That vow was made by Sprint in order to gain approval for its acquisition of Clearwire and also to clear the path for its $21.6 billion merger with Japanese operator SoftBank Corp. : Both deals were duly approved and closed in July 2013. (See Softbank Closes on Sprint Acquisition and Sprint Completes Clearwire Acquisition.)

Sprint was compelled to make that assurance because Huawei was one of the vendors cited in October 2012 as a security risk by the U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Following a near year-long investigation, that Committee, chaired by Republican congressman Mike Rogers (now a CNN national security commentator), recommended that government contractors should exclude technology from Huawei and another Chinese telecoms equipment supplier, ZTE Corp. (Shenzhen: 000063; Hong Kong: 0763), and noted that "network providers and systems developers are strongly encouraged to seek other vendors for their projects." (See US vs Huawei/ZTE: The Verdict and Huawei, ZTE Get Grilled in US.)

Naturally, both Huawei and ZTE refuted the findings, which also prompted a response from Chinese government officials. (See China Lashes Out at 'Cold War Mentality' and Huawei Hits Back.)

But the message to the industry was clear: Companies wanting to do business with the US government should not do business with Huawei or ZTE, which, according to the Committee, could not be trusted "to be free of foreign state influence."

The news that Huawei equipment is still active in Sprint's network could affect the service provider's ability to hold on to or win government contracts. The operator, which is the fourth-largest US mobile operator with 57.9 million customers (as of September 2015), is not a major supplier to the federal government, but it does have a wireless services deal with the US General Services Administration, the US Navy, and the Post Office, amongst other deals.

So does Sprint still plan to replace the Huawei equipment, which comprises basestations and antennas? "We're not commenting on timing," Sprint's Norton told Light Reading late last week.

Huawei's other US engagements
The news could also turn the spotlight on other major US operators that have done business with Huawei. Wholesale operator Level 3 Communications Inc. (NYSE: LVLT), for example, is believed to have sourced optical network transport technology from the Chinese company in 2009. (See Is Huawei in at Level 3?)

Whilst that supplier relationship is thought to have been short-lived, a source close to Level 3 tells Light Reading that the operator still has Huawei equipment deployed in its core network. Level 3 had not yet responded to Light Reading requests for comment as this article was published.

This doesn't mean Huawei isn't active in the US market. While the 2012 Intelligence Committee report acted as a significant barrier to doing business with the likes of AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL) and T-Mobile US Inc. , the Chinese vendor has been securing deals with smaller, competitive operators seeking affordable network infrastructure. (See Huawei Working Hard for Rural Success.)

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Stephen Saunders, Founder and CEO, and Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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kq4ym 2/5/2016 | 3:35:27 PM
Re: Sprint can't legally shut down the Huawei equipment. Another case of how the complexity of issues calls for hiring attorneys and heading to court. And in many cases it's just not clear what the fair and proper road really is. Both sides will believe it's got the best and correct take, but the court is the final decision maker, and even there, one could argue it's still not exactly the best solution.
Joe Stanganelli 1/28/2016 | 10:28:20 PM
Re: The 2012 report and international presence I insist that it is rather the same thing.  It has certainly not been proven that *every* US vendor/service provider has been compromised -- and yet we have the elimination of safe harbor and wholesale bans within organizations on using US vendors.

Likewise, it *has* been proven 1) that the Chinese do spy/have spied -- actively and aggressively -- on US interests, including IP interests and national security interests, and 2) that backdoors have been discovered hard-coded within Chinese chips.  (The debate has been whether the vulnerability was purposefully placed or not.)  This, of course, says nothing to specifically damn Huawei, ZTE, or -- indeed -- any other specific vendor.

But the similarities are definitely there.
JillAgain 1/28/2016 | 6:55:47 PM
Re: Sprint can't legally shut down the Huawei equipment. Actually, the judge just said they can't impose different terms and conditions if they migrate the customers. The injuction was 90 days, and was preventing Sprint from capping high speed access after 6GB of data. They could uncap those accounts and proceed. That's different from preventing the shut down. It does preclude using the Fed action as an excuse to raise pricing on a customer.
thebulk 1/28/2016 | 5:42:17 AM
Re: like VW @Joe, of course not, no company would ever do such a thing..... ;-)
Joe Stanganelli 1/27/2016 | 7:55:32 PM
Re: like VW @bulk: Could they have just renamed the project, restaffed it, and shrouded it in heightened secrecy?  ;)
DanJones 1/27/2016 | 3:02:02 PM
Re: Sprint can't legally shut down the Huawei equipment. And it would have been super easy for them to say that. I asked them what the basestations were, WiMAX or LTE, in fact. They didn't comment. 

So here we are, AFAIK, all the CLWR Huawei gear installed in 2010 and beyond was software-upgradable to LTE anyway.
dean01 1/27/2016 | 9:08:13 AM
Sprint can't legally shut down the Huawei equipment. Sprint has been ordered by a Massachusetts state Judge to NOT shut down its Huawei WiMax equipment in 75 cities:


I'm sure Sprint would LOVE to rip out that Huawei equipment, but they have been fighting the this litigation that has banned them from doing so.  If the House intelligence committee has an issue with Sprint still using Huawei equipment, then they need to talk to this Judge in Massachusetts.

CSO,spok47666 1/26/2016 | 8:54:59 PM
Re: The 2012 report and international presence I would be more cautious to mix those things that have radivcally different reasons and foundations.

There is a big difference between the EU ruling in order to protect privacy of european citizens and a no proved claim against chinese vendors in order to rise up protectionist barriers.

In EU privacy is a costitutional right of every citizen, and ruling to protect this privacy are a obvious consequence. Alas USA does not have the same approach on privacy respect, therefore ECJ and EU governments have been forced to rule in order to protect EU data when going overseas.

On the contrary it has never been proved an active liason between chinese government and Huawei or ZTE, the same congress could not find any proof. the statements against chinese companies are bascally protectionism and preconcept: since they are not with us, they are against us. In other words USA government assume chinese government does the same things USA government does.

If the rest of the world should act as USA on those subject, after PRISM scandals (Jeptplow, ANT, Magic Lantern, should I fgoon?) no USA SW\HW should be used outside US, since it is a proven fact NSA tampered and spy using also USA big companies and carriers.

Funny every time someone rules to protect its right USA claim it is protectionism, but every time USA rules to kick a competitor out is it the same?
thebulk 1/26/2016 | 12:23:55 AM
Re: like VW @Joe,

It very much is like the VW scandle, but I think we may very well see a lot of companies fall under the spotlight due to this. I know when I was working at Cox Communications they were using Huawei equipment to build out their wireless network, they scrapped that project around the time the security report came out, but I don't know what, if anything happend to the network or equipment.
lilotimz 1/26/2016 | 12:23:01 AM
Re: The 2012 report and international presence The Huawei equipment are old obsolete relics of Clearwires original Wimax deployments from 2009-2011. These are old DBS3900 systems with RRU3702s. 

As part of the DBS3900 portfolio, Huawei foresaw the coming age of LTE dominance back in 2009-2010 and planned ahead for the eventual migration of WiMax users to LTE and one of the first steps they did in around 2010 was to embark on an easy upgrade route for existing users of Huawei Wimax equipment. 

This easy upgrade route mainly was software updates and I think earlier deployments needed a LTE capable DU card in the BTS but generally no hardware modification to existing clearwire cell sites whereas Samsung swapped out their old wimax hardware for dual mode capable WiMax/TDD-LTE equipment starting in 2011 before it was halted by Sprint in 2013 in favor of 8T8R equipment.

Huawei was contracted by Clearwire to deploy newer generation LTE equipment to overlay wimax only markets deployed by the insolvent vendor (motorola). Major markets such as Las Vegas was to be deployed by Huawei but Sprint cancelled it all and instead deployed their own 8T8R equipment. Las Vegas was the first metro area to be almost completely overlaid by Sprint back in 2014 because of the situation with the wimax only sites. 

Anyways back to the main point of today.

The Huawei dual mode WiMax + LTE equipment are obsolete and will be replaced by the regional 2.5 vendors. The RRU37xx only supports up to 30 MHz IBW or a single 20 MHz LTE carrier + a Wimax carrier. In single mode it can only do 20 MHz LTE carrier + 10 MHz LTE carrier and no carrier aggregation. On the other hand the newer Samsung equipment are capable of 2x20 carrier aggregation running in 4T4R LTE only mode which is currently the case. Meanwhile the beastly 8T8R equipment support up to 120 MHz IBW or 6 individual 20 MHz LTE carriers. 

Their replacement was due to begin late winter / Q1 and Sprint was filing permits with numerous cities to do mainly 1 for 1 replacement of all hardware starting back last July. The Wimax injunction prevented Sprint from shutting down any wimax sites and since Sprint cannot decomission WiMax sites due to the injunction they cannot yet deploy the replacement setups. 

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