Huawei may face 5G ban in Canada, security experts say

Huawei's status as a leading supplier of the backbone equipment for telecoms systems – mostly in developing markets – has given China an inside track for spearheading 5G mobile technology. — AFP Relaxnews

OTTAWA: Canada will probably ban Huawei Technologies Co from its 5G network, analysts and security experts say, though Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may delay the decision as long as possible to avoid jeopardising three Canadians detained in China.

As Trudeau awaits a security review ahead of the 5G roll-out, former envoys to China, ex-spy chiefs and telecom analysts are increasingly of the view that Canada will follow some of its allies in freezing out Huawei from the next-generation network.

“I think a ban is likely,” Richard Fadden, a former national security adviser to Trudeau, said in an interview. He thinks Huawei’s presence in 5G would pose a risk to national security, adding that some of Canada’s allies are shunning Huawei. “I think it’s important for Canada to remember it’s in, and of, the West.”

Canada would join countries including the United States, Australia and New Zealand that have blocked or limited the use of Huawei equipment. Germany and other European governments have also been weighing whether to place restrictions over concerns that Chinese intelligence could use the networks to spy on other countries, fears the company has dismissed.

For Trudeau, it’s arguably the most fraught decision he has faced in his almost four years as prime minister. He must balance his ties with the United States and China with the fate of three detained Canadians, while also facing pressure from intelligence partners and domestic telecom companies.

China’s envoy to Ottawa has warned of “repercussions”, if Canada bans Huawei. If Trudeau allows Huawei, he’d look like he was bowing to Chinese pressure and would risk alienating close allies.

Canadian Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said a security review over 5G is ongoing, and he declined to speculate Tuesday on when a decision will be made.

“I want to see a decision as rapidly as possible but I also want to see the process done correctly,” he told reporters in Ottawa. “We want to examine all of that so that we understand not only the advantages of the technology, but also where the potential vulnerabilities and weaknesses are, where threats or risks may come from.”

Huawei warned that a ban would be a set back for Canada.

“To reverse this would set Canada’s wireless competitive advantage back years,” Huawei Canada said in a statement. “We are confident the Canadian government is committed to a thorough review and we have received no indication that a policy determination has been made.”

Canada’s three major telecommunications companies are watching closely. Telus Corp and BCE Inc’s Bell Canada are the most heavily invested with Huawei and would be impacted by a ban, analysts say. Rogers Communications Inc uses Ericsson AB of Sweden and wouldn’t be affected, analysts say. Any ban would only apply to 5G networks, and not the existing 4G or previous systems, according to a National Bank Financial report.

The telecom companies have kept a low profile since the arrest in Vancouver of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou in December, though Telus defended its use of Huawei equipment in a note to employees. Telus and BCE, which is scheduled to report earnings, didn’t return calls seeking comment.

Banning Huawei would leave Canadian telecoms with essentially two main choices: Nokia Oyj and Ericsson. Rogers said it’s partnering with Ericsson, including for its 5G roll-out. — Bloomberg

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