Finding an Exit From Huawei Hell

The telecom industry's big problem is that a debate about 5G suppliers is being driven by security agencies and politicians.

Robert Clark, Contributing Editor, Special to Light Reading

January 29, 2020

3 Min Read
Finding an Exit From Huawei Hell

The UK decision on Huawei is probably the best possible under the circumstances.

It may be technically awkward and will likely require telcos to rip out some kit, but that everyone is a bit unhappy is a sign of compromise. (See Telecom industry rift widens over key 5G security issue.)

But it doesn't really settle anything, and the saga will roll on. The problem for telecom is this is being driven by security agencies and politicians, and the voices of industry leaders have been discounted.

Yet it's absurd to have to go through this level of drama over a single legacy supplier.

Industry -- and not just the telecom industry -- should insist on a few principles.

Not that China and its behavior aren't threatening. The evidence of China's state-driven industrial espionage and massive cyber attacks, to name areas of direct concern to telecom, is overwhelming.

But business needs a coherent approach to dealing with suppliers and market entrants that can provide some certainty, as well as mollify demanding Americans and bullying Chinese.

It's difficult for operators to deploy networks if they can't have a competitive supply market and access to the best technologies. It's even harder if they are not certain whose equipment is acceptable.

Is it too hard to come up with a kind of checklist that would evaluate a prospective supplier or investor according to its:

  • closeness to government (including state ownership)

  • role in critical infrastructure

  • proximity to sensitive data

  • level of government subsidies and support

  • human rights violations

  • past record of behaviour?

It would at least be consistent and evidence-based.

Of course, a market solution would be best. Some US senators are proposing to put $1 billion the way of open RAN vendors, but that is probably too little, too late. (See US Senators Propose More Than $1B for Open RAN to Fight Huawei.)

A better option would be for a US firm to take up Huawei on its offer to license out its tech. No one is going to do that, but it would mean a competitive supply market without the Huawei security threat. (See When It Comes to Licensing Huawei, US Vendors Uniformly Say 'Not It'.)

Finally, telecom executives' time would also be well-spent moderating expectations for 5G. The one area where the US and China agree is that 5G is going to create an AI-fueled world of automated factories, self-driving cars, sentient robots and connected everything. "4G changes life, 5G changes the world," is a favorite Chinese slogan.

They'd be doing everyone a favor by getting leaders to walk this back a little.

5G is a big deal for telcos and maybe for business eventually, but it is not some kind of Manhattan Project that will deliver an unassailable "lead" for whoever deploys first or the country whose vendor sells the most kit.

It doesn't work like that. The industry needs to push back on this and create certainty for itself or we will be going through Huawei hell for years.

— 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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