Huawei taps new telecom firm led by former Sprint exec

Chinese vendor Huawei turned to a new startup led by a former Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) executive to help it win more business in the U.S. market.

Amerlink Telecom Kevin Packingham sprint nextel huaweiThe vendor tapped Amerlink Telecom, a new startup headed by Kevin Packingham, who left Sprint earlier this month after serving as the carrier's senior vice president of product and technology development. The move is the latest in a series of twisting developments for Huawei, which is reportedly in the running to win a major infrastructure contract from Sprint--while at the same time working to address the U.S. government's national security concerns.

Amerilink is based in Sprint's hometown of Overland Park, Kan., and is staffed by several former Sprint employees. Additionally, the company's chairman, William Owens, is a former vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and CEO of Nortel. Amerlink describes itself as a company that that is "uniquely positioned to be a 21st century technology solutions provider that can effectively facilitate the introduction of new technology and entrants into the North American data and telecommunications market." Huawei tapped the company to be a U.S. distribution partner for its gear, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Sprint recently put out an RFP for a variety of network technologies, including LTE, but has not commented on the state of the process or when it might make any decisions on vendors. "If there are opportunities at Sprint, we'll go after it," Packingham said in an interview with the Journal, adding, "I still bleed Sprint yellow."

In a statement, Huawei said: "Huawei's relation with Amerilink is part of our broader approach to expand our presence in North America and to further enhance our service offerings," according to the Journal. Huawei has yet to make inroads with Tier-1 U.S. carriers, but already supplies equipment to the likes of Clearwire (NASDAQ:CLWR) and Cox Communications.

Huawei is the only customer listed on Amerilink's website, but the company said it has other clients as well. "Our goal is to get into all of the Tier-1 providers in the U.S., and if Huawei's one way we can do that, we'll gladly do it," Packingham said.

Last week, a group of Republican senators asked the Obama administration to take a closer look at whether a potential deal between Sprint and Huawei would compromise national security. The senators brought up concerns about Huawei's ties to the Iranian government and the Chinese military--ties that Huawei has strongly denied. A Huawei spokeswoman, Jannie Nguyen, told FierceWireless that Huawei "abides by and respects third-party intellectual property rights and strives for continuous innovation to maintain our leadership position."

Recent reports have indicated that both the U.S. government and Huawei are trying to figure out the best approach to take if Huawei decides to become further enmeshed in the U.S. market. According to a separate recent report in the Journal, Huawei hired a raft of U.S. advisers to help it overcome security concerns. The report said Huawei tapped several law firms that specialize in telecom, mergers and winning federal approval for sensitive international deals.

In July, the Financial Times reported that Huawei is bidding on a significant wireless contract with Sprint. The report, citing unnamed sources familiar with the matter, did not say what kind of equipment was under discussion, nor did it say if, or when, a decision regarding the contract would be made.

For more:
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)
- see this Amerilink site

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