Huawei, ZTE continue to sell equipment to US schools, hospitals and others

According to a new report, ZTE, Huawei and other Chinese manufacturers continue to sell their equipment to US schools, hospitals and other entities even after federal efforts to prevent such transactions at a nationwide level.

"The single largest buyer in our dataset, a midsize public university in Michigan, invested some $15.1 million in Huawei LTE networking equipment (nodes, transceivers, base stations, and power systems) and related support services between 2015 and 2021," according to the new report from Georgetown University's Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET). "Similarly, a pair of public school districts in northeast Arkansas each spent more than $1 million on Hikvision surveillance systems, and a charter school district in a major Texas city spent more than $550,000 on Hytera two-way radios."

As noted by Axios, the report doesn't name the specific entities that purchased the equipment.

Nonetheless, the situation has raised concerns among some US policymakers.

Security concerns

"When the technologies are deployed in government networks, they can serve as entry points for any other networks that are connected to them," Michael Kratsios, co-author of the report and former CTO of the United States, told Axios.

(Source: Marcos Alvarado/Alamy Stock Photo)
(Source: Marcos Alvarado/Alamy Stock Photo)

The CSET report analyzed public government procurement records provided by GovSpend. It found that, between 2015 and 2021, at least 1,681 state and local entities purchased equipment that's prohibited at the federal level.

"Collectively, these entities conducted nearly 5,700 transactions involving a wide range of covered equipment including but not limited to smartphones, surveillance cameras, temperature scanners, handheld radios, and networking equipment," according to the report, which named vendors including Huawei, ZTE, Hikvision, Dahua and Hytera.

It continued: "The total value of these purchases was approximately $45.2 million. While the scale of transactions may seem small in terms of monetary value, it is significant in terms of potential risk. Each piece of covered equipment represents a potential entry point into users' networks, regardless of its cost."

Prevention efforts

The broad US move against Chinese vendors started in part in 2012 with a Senate report raising the possibility that such equipment could allow Chinese spies access to US data.

The effort gained steam under the Trump administration, which moved to ban US federal agencies and others from purchasing equipment from the likes of ZTE and Huawei. Indeed, the FCC continues to work to strip out such equipment from some small US wireless networks. The vendors themselves continue to argue that their equipment does not pose a security risk.

However, there are few bans at the state level involving Chinese equipment vendors. For example, the CSET report notes that only five states – Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, and Vermont – have enacted measures to limit the sale of equipment from the likes of Huawei and ZTE.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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