By David Meyer
February 12, 2019

The U.S. is keeping up pressure on other countries to shun equipment from the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei—but network operators back home aren’t so keen for the U.S. to take such a step itself.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used a Monday speech in Budapest, Hungary, to warn that allies would find it harder to get Washington to “partner alongside them” if they deploy Chinese equipment in their telecoms networks.

“We want to make sure we identify (to) them the opportunities and the risks of using that equipment,” Pompeo reportedly said. “If that equipment is co-located where we have important American systems, it makes it more difficult for us to partner alongside them.”

The use of equipment from Chinese vendors such as Huawei and ZTE is already banned for federal agencies and federal-funding recipients in the U.S., but the country has so far not instituted wider restrictions. President Donald Trump was recently reported to be planning an executive order, possibly to be signed this week, that would stop regular U.S. operators from deploying Chinese equipment.

According to a Monday Wall Street Journal report, rural American network operators aren’t keen on the idea of such a ban. That’s because they already use a ton of Chinese equipment, and replacing it could cost as much as $1 billion, plus a lot of employee time.

“For a period of one or two years, we’ll have to focus on replacing Huawei and not do anything else,” James Groft, CEO of James Valley Telecommunications, told the Journal. U.S. officials claim Huawei’s equipment could provide a spying conduit for Chinese intelligence, but Groft said he wanted to see “something credible, and not fearmongering.”

It’s not yet clear whether the executive order would refer to already-installed equipment. The fears about Huawei are most pronounced when it comes to the equipment that will be needed to roll out for the so-called fifth generation (5G) of mobile connectivity. As this will involve connecting billions of vehicles and everyday devices to the Internet, intelligence agencies are worried about new levels of spying potential.

Countries that have effectively banned Huawei from 5G deployments include Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Canada is mulling such a move. Germany is also considering a ban, though reports suggest it is likely to demand security guarantees from the company instead—that’s effectively a ban if Huawei can’t make those promises.

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