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US, China tensions over Huawei spill to Mobile World Congress

China and US presidents. Washington is dispatching a big delegation to press its case with telecom executives and government officials that they should avoid Huawei over national security concerns. (FILE PHOTO)

BARCELONA – Chinese tech giant Huawei took centre stage at the world’s biggest mobile industry trade fair, as it wages a geopolitical battle with the US.

Huawei has an outsized presence at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) Barcelona. MWC is a four-day industry showcase of mobile devices and innovations that is expected to draw 100,000 visitors. The focus at this year’s meeting is new 5G networks due to roll out in the coming years. But an ongoing US-China dispute over Huawei, the world’s biggest maker of networking gear, is covering the otherwise would be good mood.

Khaleej Times reports that Washington is dispatching a big delegation to press its case with telecom executives and government officials that they should avoid Huawei over national security concerns. MWC is a key forum for lobbying and making deals.

Continued claims, more innovations

President Donald Trump’s administration has raised fears that the Chinese government could use Huawei equipment to snoop on the world’s internet traffic – accusations that Huawei has rejected, saying there has not been a single proven case of a cyber-security breach.

Huawei’s counteroffensive includes unveiling a new folding 5G phone, and having executives speak on keynote panels and brief journalists at the show.

“The geopolitical tensions between the USA and China will undoubtedly be a hot topic at MWC, particularly in the context of Huawei,” the paper quotes Shaun Collins, CEO of research firm CCS Insight, as having said.

“There is little doubt that operators around the world are concerned that draconian sanctions on their ability to use Huawei’s 5G infrastructure could have detrimental effects on their 5G roll-out plans.”

US preference

Behind closed doors, US officials have been suggesting that Ericsson of Sweden and Finland’s Nokia should be preferred suppliers, but telecom providers like Huawei for its cheap but good quality equipment. That helps lower the cost to customers of using new 5G networks, which promise lightning fast download speeds and less signal lag – advancements that will help develop self-driving cars, factory robots and remote surgery.

Trump tweeted last week that he wanted the US to catch up in the 5G race through competition, “not by blocking out currently more advanced technologies.” Though he didn’t mention China or Huawei, the comments could be seen as a more toned-down approach to the company, which has long been blocked in the US.

Huawei’s rotating chairman, Guo Ping, told reporters on Sunday he was aware of the remarks.

“I have noticed the president’s Twitter,” said Guo. “He said that the US needs faster and smarter 5G and even 6G and he has realised that the US is lagging behind in this aspect. I think his message is clear and correct.”

US allies in Europe are still making their minds up on allowing Huawei to participate in the 5G rollout and it’s not clear if Washington’s campaign is having an effect, with some viewing it as a calculation of technical risks rather than as part of a broader battle for tech supremacy between China and the US.

Word from other economies

British intelligence officials have said they believe they’re able to manage the risk of using Huawei’s gear, but the government has yet to make a final decision, pending a review expected in the next month or two. Germany officials have said there’s no plan to explicitly bar any single manufacturer.

GSMA, an association that represents 750 mobile operators worldwide, is recommending a testing and certification regime for Europe to ensure confidence in network security while “maintaining competition” in equipment supply.

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