Jun 17, 2019 | Updated: 11:38 AM EDT

Huawei is Pushing for the Rural Canadian Market Amidst Controversy

Jun 04, 2019 05:53 AM EDT

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A British Columbia community will soon have faster wireless service through a trial project from ABC Communications using Huawei Technologies equipment. The Chinese company is pushing ahead with a strategy to enhance connectivity in rural and northern Canada, despite the political firestorm surrounding its presence in Western markets.

While much of the debate has focused on whether Huawei should participate in building the next generation of wireless technology in Canada, known as 5G, the company's already extensive presence in the country's 3G and 4G networks have faced less scrutiny. Huawei is continuing to supply equipment to improve internet access in underserved markets. Remote communities and telecommunications companies are eager to install the technology, but a security expert says Canada should be wary of Huawei expanding its influence.

"There are security concerns relating to Huawei generally as a corporation," said Richard Fadden, a former national security adviser to the prime minister. "Everything they do and all their technology is susceptible to being used by the security authorities of the Chinese state. The older the equipment, the more focused it is, the more limited it is, the lesser the threat. But I would argue that the issue isn't only 5G ... it's the idea that Huawei, as a Chinese corporation, is required by Chinese law to assist the Chinese security authorities."

"China has a law that requires companies to co-operate and assist with national intelligence investigations. Its government has a very aggressive approach to information and intelligence gathering, so there is always a risk," Fadden said.

Huawei's chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, was arrested at Vancouver's airport in December at the request of US authorities who want to extradite her on fraud charges. Soon after, China detained two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who were formally arrested and accused of spying.

On Thursday, US Vice-President Mike Pence pledged to urge China to release the two Canadians during his government's free-trade talks with the People's Republic.

The Trump administration has broadly banned companies from buying any Huawei equipment, forcing carriers to scrap or rethink rural connectivity projects. Canada has not indicated it's contemplating a similar ban, although it is reviewing security concerns associated with 5G technology.

Bob Allen, CEO of ABC Communications, said Huawei provided its Massive MIMO Rural Broadband System for the Lac la Hache trial at no cost and in turn ABC is providing the labor. There was no financial incentive provided for the trial, but ABC will provide feedback to Huawei that will help with product development, he said.

There are only a handful of companies worldwide providing state-of-the-art equipment for LTE networks, Allen said, adding Ericsson and Nokia do not target the rural market globally so there are really no technology partners other than Huawei for ABC to use.

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