Cellphone users love to complain about problems with their providers. The American giants of T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon, and AT&T are often criticized for “awful service,” or being “too expensive.” Across the world, other foreign contemporaries like Ericsson, Nokia, and Huawei beget similar complaints. However, with Huawei, a Chinese mobile network company that is probably little known to the everyday American, complaints about fluctuating coverage and slow LTE may soon become concerns over foreign espionage and cyber warfare.
Huawei, a fast-rising leader for the next generation of 5G mobile networks whose sales rose by 20 percent to exceed $107 billion in the past year, has been accused of enabling potential cyber-espionage by the Chinese government and military. The accusations point to recent Chinese laws (which state that Chinese firms must, if directed, assist in intelligence collection) as evidence that Huawei is untrustworthy and could act as a conduit for Chinese espionage. The accusations are further supported by a recent British assessment of Huawei that stated that aspects of Huawei’s software is filled with various potential “back doors” like duplicate code, which can weaken a device’s cryptography and leave data vulnerable. Additional allegations that Huawei has engaged in intellectual property theft also haven’t helped the telecommunications company’s reputation abroad. And while Huawei’s founder Ren Zhengfei has insisted that Huawei has never nor ever will “enable Chinese government espionage,” Huawei has indisputable ties with the Chinese government and is clearly not managed under the same judicial and legal safeguards that exist in the U.S. that limit companies’ cooperation with intelligence agencies.
For the U.S., the fact that Huawei’s 5G networks can be used for anything ranging from self-driving cars to military operations is especially worrying. This isn’t helped by Huawei’s burgeoning mobile telecommunications empire becoming more and more prevalent in other developing countries. This is partly due to Huawei’s aggressive price-slashing technique, which is doing significant damage to internal competitors and ensuring that in some countries, there is no choice but to use Huawei’s connected network. And while the U.S. recently banned federal agencies and contractors from purchasing Huawei equipment in an effort to curtail its rising influence, the problem lies with other foreign markets that are already using Huawei. Due to the need to connect with other foreign markets for services like the Internet, American traffic will inevitably traverse systems that Huawei controls, allowing for Huawei insight onto American data.
This dilemma has led to significant action by the U.S. and other nations to attempt to stop Huawei on the basis of its ripe potential for cyber-espionage. Providers in the U.S. have already begun to devise new methods to combat Huawei such as of new standards of encryption, forming segmented network components, and gateways that scrub for malware when international data passes through them. Furthermore, the U.S. is not alone in its ban on Huawei products. Other nations like the Australia have also followed suit. And the U.S. has utilized other legal tactics besides the bans. This is evident in the detainment of Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, by the Canadian government earlier this year on behalf of the U.S. government. Meng, who is currently under house arrest under charges that Huawei breached the U.S.-led export sanctions on Iran, is currently fighting extradition to the U.S. Under this intense pressure from the U.S. and the rest of the West, Huawei has instead moved towards telecommunications primacy in other markets and flourished, standing as the leader of telecommunications in the 4G markets of Africa, the Middle East, southern Europe, and southeast Asia.
Huawei has thus surprisingly thrived and continued its growth despite this opposition by the U.S. As mentioned before, it’s economic growth is indisputable and U.S. national security officials are already quietly preparing for a potential future where the 5G network market is cornered and thus dominated by the more affordable Huawei. This cornering of the market would shut out domestic companies all over the world and make Huawei one of the only viable telecommunication companies. In fact, the actions against Huawei have arguably given it even more free press around the world. In China, the perceived “bullying” of Huawei has even increased its sales there.
While experts state the mythical 5G networks are mere years away, a full rollout in developed nations is expected to take in around ten years. This gives the U.S. some time to prepare and potentially offset a Huawei takeover. However, Huawei continues towards dominance as it spreads towards other developing nations and raises its domestic profile. The company has even raised the prospect of filing a lawsuit against the U.S. government, claiming that the espionage claims are unsubstantiated and that the company has been denied due process. Nonetheless, as the 5G network becomes and closer and closer to reality, it seems that another conflict between the U.S. and China is set to occur, with the U.S. surely pushing for more bans and restrictions on Huawei. But Huawei, whose name roughly translates to “achievement”, seems to have lived up to its namesake, showing the world what it can achieve in the face of American adversity.