SaskTel ‘Unlikely’ to Use Huawei for 5G, Minister Says

June 26, 2020 Updated: June 27, 2020

Saskatchewan’s SaskTel may become the latest Canadian telecommunications company to announce it will not use Huawei technology for its 5G network infrastructure, following in the footsteps of Bell and Telus.

“We’re going to follow suit with what Bell and Telus are doing for our 5G. We will look at other vendors, specifically Nokia and Ericsson,” Don Morgan, the minister responsible for SaskTel, told the Regina Leader-Post on June 24. 

“There is not a decision made, but it would be unlikely that we would have Huawei.”

Morgan said one reason is to align with partners Bell and Teluswho announced on June 2 that they were shifting to European suppliersin order to ensure streamlined service for SaskTel customers.

Earlier this month, Telus announced that it will partner with Huawei rivals Ericsson and Nokia for the development of its 5G network, hours after BCE Inc., which owns Bell, said it will partner with Ericsson.

Rogers is also staying away from Huawei for its 5G. Rogers was first among the Canadian telecom companies to announce that it wouldn’t be using the company, which has close ties to the Chinese regime. Rogers’s vice-chair said in an interview with Bloomberg last year that Huawei would pose too big of a threat to Canada and should be banned from the country’s 5G infrastructure.

Another concern Morgan gave for avoiding Huawei was security.

“When we go forward into 5G there’s the issues of security in the core network and what support you have from other governments, including the government of Canada,” he told Global News.

A recent Angus Reid survey showed that close to 80 percent of Canadians say Huawei should be banned from being involved in building the country’s 5G infrastructure, around 10 points higher than late last year.

Three of Canada’s allies in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance—Australia, New Zealand, and the United States—have banned Huawei from their fifth-generation wireless networks, and The Telegraph reported that the U.K. plans to reduce the company’s involvement in its 5G to zero by 2023.

Chinese Military Background

A document issued by the U.S. Department of Defence on June 24 listed Huawei as one of 20 companies that have a Chinese military background.

The list also includes China Mobile Communications Group and China Telecommunications Corp as well as aircraft manufacturer Aviation Industry Corp of China.

The Defence Department was mandated by a 1999 law to compile a list of Chinese military companies operating in the United States, including those “owned or controlled” by the People’s Liberation Army that provide commercial services, manufacture, produce, or export.

The designations do not trigger penalties, but the law says the president may impose sanctions that could include blocking all property of the listed parties.

The White House did not comment on whether it would sanction the companies on the list, but a senior administration official said the list can be seen as “a useful tool for the U.S. Government, companies, investors, academic institutions, and likeminded partners to conduct due diligence with regard to partnerships with these entities, particularly as the list grows.”

The United States put Huawei and 114 affiliates on a trade blacklist last year, barring U.S. firms from doing business with the company. It tightened these restrictions in May by blocking the company from being able to acquire from global chipmakers crucial semiconductors that power its smartphones and telecom gear.

A 2019 study by Christopher Balding, an associate professor at Fulbright University Vietnam, conducted with the U.K.-based think tank Henry Jackson Society, analyzed a database of leaked CVs and found that about 100 Huawei employees had links to Chinese military or intelligence agencies.

Balding examined a dataset of 2 million CVs, of which about 25,000 were of Huawei employees, that had been leaked online through unsecure recruitment platforms.

“There is significant direct evidence of Huawei personnel acting at the direction of Chinese state intelligence with multiple overlapping relationship links through the Chinese state,” the study concluded.

The state-run Huazhong University of Science and Technology Press in China published the book, “Ren Zhengfei’s Biography” in 2010, which shows Ren Zhengfei, the founder of Huawei, is also a former officer with the People’s Liberation Army.

With files from Reuters. With reporting by Justina Wheale and Cathy He.