Telus isn’t waiting for Ottawa to decide whether the country’s wireless carriers can use equipment from China’s Huawei in their new 5G networks.
Doug French, the company’s chief financial officer told the National Post today that it plans to include Huawei in the access part of the network, not the core, when the new 5G network goes live.
That will be “shortly,” he said. “Our initial module will be with Huawei.”
The announcement comes after the U.K. decided carriers there could only put equipment from “high-risk” countries — like China — in their 5G networks at the edge. This is to meet security concerns that servers and switches in a telecom network core could access sensitive government data.
It also comes as network partner Bell has said Nokia will be its first 5G network equipment supplier. Bell and Telus have been using Huawei equipment for years.
However, critics — including the U.S. government — maintain that unlike current 4G networks the new 5G networks process a lot of data at the edge so for all practical purposes it can’t be separated from the core.
The Canadian government has the final say here and has been weighing its options — allowing Huawei 5G network equipment entirely, partially or not at all — for some time. Complicating and possibly delaying the decision, however, is the detention of two Canadians in China after Canada arrested and then released on bail Huawei’s chief financial officer pending an extradition hearing to the U.S.
It isn’t clear how far Telus has got with its 5G planning and equipment purchases.
In a statement to IT World Canada Telus said “our 5G RFP (request for proposal) process is underway and we continue to explore supplier diversification. As 5G and 4G technology and network components are interoperable, it is natural that we build from our 4G supplier ecosystem, while continuing to collaborate with the Canadian government.”
The statement notes that Huawei equipment is already restricted to the non-sensitive radio access portion of Canadian 4G networks.
“This approach is entirely compliant with current Canadian regulatory and cybersecurity requirements, which have been in place and approved by successive federal governments for more than a decade. This model is also presently being adopted by numerous countries around the world, including the U.K. and Germany.”
French also told The Post that Telus will follow whatever new rules the federal government sets.
Washington has been pressuring its allies for some time to refuse to allow carriers to buy Huawei 5G network equipment over security concerns. It points to a Chinese law that mandates companies there to co-operate with its intelligence agencies, raising the fear that Huawei employees (or those of any manufacturer) will be ordered to modify products allowing Beijing to more easily spy on global network traffic.
This week news reports quoted the U.S. national security advisor saying can now access sensitive customer information running through its switches. An Associated Press report suggested this may be a reference to a capability that carriers in the U.S. — and in most countries — to allow law enforcement agencies to intercept communications, usually with a court order.
Also this week the U.S. revealed a new indictment alleging Huawei and its proxies conspired “to misappropriate intellectual property” from six American firms as part of a strategy to grow and become the world’s largest telecom equipment maker. This is on top of an indictment released in January, 2019 alleging Huawei stole trade secrets from US carrier T-Mobile.
Some security experts are debating over whether access points and the core in 5G networks are separate, and worry over Huawei masking the fact that organizations can’t take anything for granted when it comes to cyber risk management. CISOs have to prepare for vulnerabilities in any system, regardless of the vendor, through encryption, data segregation, multifactor authentication and other techniques.