AT&T CEO says Huawei makes it difficult for carriers to swap 5G equipment

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson argued that Huawei’s lack of interoperability in 4G equipment is making it difficult for European carriers to shift to other vendors for 5G equipment, according to a report from Reuters. Stephenson, who was speaking at an event in Washington, D.C., explained to an audience that Huawei 4G equipment is only interoperable with Huawei’s 5G equipment.

“If you have deployed Huawei as your 4G network, Huawei is not allowing interoperability to 5G—meaning if you are 4G, you are stuck with Huawei for 5G,” said Stephenson. “When the Europeans say 'we got a problem'—that’s their problem. They really don’t have an option to go to somebody else.”

President Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act (PDF) in August 2018, which bars U.S. federal agencies from using Huawei and ZTE telecommunications equipment, amid fears that Chinese equipment makers could surreptitiously spy on Americans. The U.S. government also urged AT&T to end its negotiations with Huawei in 2018 when the carrier planned to offer Huawei handsets to customers.

That pressure has extended to Europe, where U.S. officials have lobbied international allies to ban Huawei products from 5G deployments. As a result, Australia is banning wireless carriers from using Huawei products on their 5G networks, and Japan has banned its government agencies from using equipment from either Huawei or ZTE.

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But earlier this month, Germany’s government announced it would not ban Huawei products from 5G build-outs. Instead, it will tighten security rules regarding which vendors wireless operators can use for network upgrades. German wireless providers are in the midst of upgrading their networks for 5G, and the country’s top three carriers, Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone and Telefonica Deutschland, have all held 5G trials with Huawei.

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In his speech, Stephenson argued that the U.S. should do a better job of explaining the threat that Huawei poses to infrastructure. The biggest risk is not the espionage threat posed by the Chinese government using backdoor access to Huawei’s 5G equipment, Stephenson said, but rather that Huawei is speeding toward a monopoly of 5G equipment, thanks to its success around the world.

“If that much of infrastructure will be attached to this kind of technology, do we want to be cautious about who is the underlying company behind that technology?” Stephenson said. “We damn well better be.”