Skip to main content

US pushing tech and telecom industries to build 5G alternative to Huawei

US pushing tech and telecom industries to build 5G alternative to Huawei


To wean US companies off the Chinese tech giant

Share this story

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

The Trump administration is trying to accelerate efforts to break ties with Chinese tech giant Huawei when it comes to building out next-generation 5G cell networks, The Wall Street Journal reports. The goal is to create common engineering standards for 5G networks that would allow tech and telecom companies to use US-made equipment over Huawei’s. As it stands right now, Huawei is the world’s leading telecom hardware provider, and its best-in-class products are sold to large companies that help cell towers and smartphones communicate, among other technical feats.

“The big-picture concept is to have all of the US 5G architecture and infrastructure done by American firms, principally,” Larry Kudlow, a White House economic adviser, tells the WSJ. “That also could include Nokia and Ericsson because they have big US presences.” Since President Donald Trump took office in early 2017, the White House has taken aim at the Chinese tech industry over both security concerns and trade agreements.

Firmly in the crosshairs has been Huawei, which US politicians and intelligence agencies have accused of undermining national security through alleged corporate espionage and direct ties to the Chinese government. In a dramatic escalation of the conflict last year, the White House banned US companies from working with Huawei, which had the effect of forcing Google to pull its Android license that lets Huawei smartphones access the search giant’s core mobile software. The ban is supposed to go into effect, after multiple delays, later this month for all companies that have not yet complied.

The US is trying to copy China’s playbook by boosting domestic companies

Huawei has denied any links to Beijing, but the Chinese government is largely responsible for Huawei’s success due to the immense funding it funneled to the company and the measures it took to block competitors from impeding Huawei’s rise in the China market. As a result, Huawei became a telecom juggernaut not just in China, but all over the world. Now, the US is trying to adopt a similar strategy to promote US firms, and it wants to do so ahead of more widespread rollout of next-gen 5G networks in the coming years.

The White House is tapping companies like Dell and Microsoft to build out proper 5G-centric hardware businesses. Earlier this month, Senate lawmakers also drafted a bill to push the federal government toward creating a $1 billion-plus fund to help develop the technology required to cut Huawei out of both the domestic US market and the overseas one, where the US hopes Nordic firms with long-term ties to Silicon Valley like Ericsson and Nokia can pitch in.

The situation is more complicated in Europe, however, where Huawei technology forms the backbone of many existing cell networks. Last week, the UK government defied the US’s demand that Western allies avoid Huawei tech by announcing that it has already gone ahead and allowed Huawei tech purchases by the country’s four biggest telecoms. The UK is trying to mitigate risk by capping vendors like Huawei to 35 percent market share. As a result, UK telecom Vodafone today announced it would be replacing some Huawei equipment in accordance with the guidelines.

Yet the process of separating industries from a Chinese tech giant as massive as Huawei will prove difficult for governments worldwide, and especially the US. Huawei is already years ahead of the competition when it comes to building out the necessary infrastructure for 5G, and US companies would not only have to agree to common standards, but also build comparable hardware and deploy it in such a way that 5G networks get off the ground nationwide in the time frame companies like AT&T and Verizon keep promising.

“If the US wants 5G hardware and software developed by a US or European company, the government should encourage companies to begin negotiations with Huawei to license our 5G technology,” Huawei’s US security lead Andy Purdy tells the WSJ. Purdy says that Huawei’s intellectual property is integral to fast 5G deployment, and that without it, “the combined product will be one to two years behind the comparable Huawei products in terms of functionality and assurance.”