Huawei exec: We treat Tier 3 U.S. carriers like they're the 'belle of the ball'

ATLANTA--Although Huawei has effectively been shut out of network-infrastructure deals with Tier 1 U.S. carriers over cybersecurity concerns, the vendor is having success with Tier 3 operators. In fact, the company added eight new U.S. wireless or wireline customers in 2014.

Overall, Huawei works with more than 50 U.S. carriers, including 30 wireless operators, according to Patrick Kaiser, Huawei's director of wireless-product management in North America. Kaiser said that given all of the negative press and attention surrounding the company in the U.S., it is incumbent upon Huawei to be the best partner it can be to the U.S. carriers.

"Our reputation means everything," he said in an interview with FierceWireless here at the Competitive Carriers Association Global Expo. "So we're going to treat a Tier 3 [carrier], whether they have 10 cell sites or 500 cell sites, as if they were the belle of the ball." He said doing so is "critical to make sure our reputation is as pristine as possible in support of our customers to overcome the challenges they face."

A 2012 U.S. government report labeled China-based network vendors Huawei and ZTE as security threats that could be used as backdoors for Chinese espionage. Both companies have repeatedly said the claims are without merit.

"Typically, the customers that go with us are the ones not interested in politics," Kaiser said. "They don't have time to waste playing these games." Huawei works with smaller carriers, such as Nemont Telephone's Sagebrush Cellular, SpeedConnect, Union Wireless and United Wireless, providing radio access network and core networking equipment.

George Reed, senior vice president of solutions and marketing at Huawei Technologies USA, said that word of mouth and customer recommendations have drummed up sales. However, he noted that Huawei is also a member of a number of organizations that cater to smaller carriers, including the National Telephone Cooperative Association, the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, the Oregon Telecom Association, the Minnesota Telecom Association and the Tri-State Telecom Association for Idaho, Colorado and Nevada.

Those groups give Huawei a closer connection to smaller and rural carriers, Reed said. "We're spending time creating relationships inside of those organizations" to not only sell products but address carriers' needs, he said.

Kaiser said that Huawei focuses on keeping Tier 3 U.S. customers happy just as it does with Tier 1 multinational operators in Europe or Asia. He said a key difference is that smaller U.S. carriers are not going to have the resources and R&D departments that a national carrier is likely to have. "I think there is more involvement when you deal with the Tier 3s," he said.

Reed added that a couple of the things Huawei has done to be responsive to smaller carriers is create new service bundles and change its service bundles. He noted that Tier 3 operators are generally more conscious of costs and often want to take on network design, maintenance and training themselves. Reed said Huawei has created new service bundles with specialized training so Tier 3 carriers can handle more of the work themselves and have more flexibility. Typicaly, Reed said, a Tier 1 carrier will demand that training be done on its terms.

Kaiser also noted that Huawei, through United Wireless, offers a hosted network core and hosted IMS solution, which he said is critical for operators without a lot of money to spend on their own IMS core. The program has three partners but is able to add more, he said. The system lets operators save significant amounts of money on capital spending, Kaiser said.

The process of working with Tier 3 carriers is helping Huawei as it waits for a more favorable political climate in the U.S., Kaiser said. "Without a doubt, we are learning an immense amount of information and getting an immense amount of experience by working with these Tier 3s," he said.

Kaiser said Huawei always has Chinese experts who work with the company's headquarters in Shenzhen, China, but that its entire service department is locally based. He said that the company wants to build strong and positive relationships with Tier 3 carriers because those relationships can filter up to and influence Tier 1 carriers.

For now, Huawei plans to wait it out. "In the meantime, while we're here, why not do your best and try to learn from a business perspective, a technological perspective and customer-centric perspective?" Kasier asked.

Reed added that as smaller carriers get gobbled up by Tier 1 players, Huawei "needs to put its best foot forward," because if its equipment is present and running well in a Tier 3 carrier's network, "that's an opportunity for us if AT&T or whoever buys a Tier 3."

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