In part I of this series about Huawei’s current status as the new scapegoat of US foreign policy, we explored the mythological roots of the propaganda push against the Chinese company. We noted that the tactic taken to demonize it resembles almost identically the same tactic as it was deployed against Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab, and its owner and founder Evgeny (Eugene) Kaspersky. That tactic was the employment of a highly circumstantial line of reasoning, that both Mr. Kaspersky and Mr. Ren Zhengfei, the founder of Huawei, were each educated in their respective nations’ military and intelligence complexes, so therefore they are agents of their respective governments, because both have Communists involved, either presently (China) or formerly (Russia).
Springing this line of reasoning on the American media, the media conveyed this to the populace of the United States, which is remarkably uneducated about international realities, that is, unless folks have actually gone to see them personally, and the fact is that Americans appear to travel outside the United States relatively little contrasted with their European and Asian counterparts. This makes it fairly easy for the US media to cast any narrative it wants – without any other points of reference, and a desire to trust the news media of a free country, it is very easy to dupe Americans into thinking many things.
But what is the reality of Huawei, itself? Is the company beholden to the Chinese defense and intelligence apparatus? Does Huawei obey orders from the Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party?
The answer is unknown, so there lies the point from which conjecture arises. However, if Huawei’s business practices are indicative of the desire of the company or the Chinese government to somehow compromise the United States’ national security, there may be something amiss with the strategy.
The United States has several major wireless cellular carriers that offer nationwide coverage: AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and Sprint. These companies have their “secondary” and sometimes even ternary networks. But there are also a large number of what are called “Regional” wireless carriers that offer wireless services in places that Big Telecom never covered. This means the great empty spaces away from the coastal cities and the scattering of large cities in the central and Western US.
Fierce Wireless is a news and information website that supports the unique world of wireless companies and their concerns. Their Editor’s Corner featured Mike Dano with some surprising information that many Americans probably do not know:
As a group of lawmakers reportedly prepares to voice concerns about how the proposed merger of Sprint and T-Mobile might be affected by China’s Huawei, there’s something they should know: Huawei already commands a substantial business among a range of smaller U.S. wireless carriers.
Moreover, a significant number of Huawei’s U.S. carrier customers—which offer wireless services to tens of thousands of Americans in rural locations across the country—are collectively happy with Huawei’s services and argue that the company poses no threat to U.S. national security.
“There is no evidence that Huawei equipment is a threat to national security, and southwestern Kansas residents rely on such equipment used by United TelCom to provide them with reliable wireless services not only for public safety purposes, but also for daily business and personal communications,” said Todd Houseman, the CEO of United TelCom, in a recent FCC filing.
There is an incorrectly stated fact – it is not merely tens of thousands of subscribers that are served by Huawei core networks. Here are the subscriber counts of networks in which Huawei forms the core and structure of the given provider’s network:
- SI Wireless – Western Kentucky and Tennessee – 20,000 customers
- NE Colorado Cellular [a.k.a. Viaero Wireless] – Eastern Colorado, Western Kansas, Nebraska, Southeast Wyoming and Southwest South Dakota – 110,000 customers
- James Valley Telecommunication – Aberdeen, South Dakota and surrounding areas – 10,000 customers
- United Telephone Association [a.k.a. United Wireless] – Customers across southwestern Kansas
- Nemont Telephone Cooperative – Montana and Northwest North Dakota – 12,000 customers
- Union Telephone Company – Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and Idaho – 40,000 customers
Anyone looking at these networks’ subscriber counts and coverage maps will see that these networks cover small towns and lots of very rural space with very few people. Although it is extremely likely that all these networks have roaming agreements with one of the larger national networks (because people in rural America commonly travel great distances for their livelihood, often many hundreds of miles in each day), the actual locales covered are not likely to be of great interest to the Chinese government… unless they wish to know how fast our corn and wheat grows. Further, the subscriber count of all these networks listed probably approaches about 200,000 people, not even 1/100 of the US’ population.
So, why do these companies use Huawei in their core networks? Simple. It is good quality equipment and the prices and service are excellent. Here to tell us about it is Frank Dirico, Owner and President of Viaero Wireless:
[Author’s note: In this matter, I can step in directly, as I worked with and for Mr. Dirico during Huawei’s buildout phase that he describes in this video. Much of what follows is also based on personal experience with Huawei and on my own level of experience as a wireless systems “engineer”, highly familiar with GSM / HSPA+ core networks.]
While this is a promotional interview that Mr. Dirico gave, the information he shares is essentially on target. Frank Dirico is an exacting professional, and has made a tremendous career for himself building out networks of this type. When Huawei deployed its test network across the San Luis Valley and near Walsenburg, Colorado, the reports we got from there were simply amazing in terms of how fast the network was built. When the “all clear” came to replace the legacy network that was, incidentally Nokia, the switch out of both core network components, and the cell sites themselves moved extremely quickly, accomplishing a great push in mere months.
Viaero’s geographical spread is enormous, and the architecture of the network for rural coverage meant that cell towers were usually about ten miles apart from one another, though in populated areas there were more cells to cover the subscriber counts. The towers are often powered by off-the-grid sources, such as solar energy or propane, and the network broadcast signal is said to be increased in the event of severe weather, such as the blinding blizzards and severe thunderstorms that cross the area. In recent times, Viaero deployed high definition cameras on their Huawei towers to observe weather conditions and provide extremely current warnings.
Huawei, like most wireless network providers, is used to providing services in areas of much higher population density, so they had to relearn their craft for Colorado and Nebraska. Simply put, they did so, and very effectively. Viaero’s success with Huawei was doubtlessly impetus to neighboring rural carrier Union Wireless, who also switched their core to Huawei in 2014. Fierce Wireless continues:
Why are so many smaller U.S. wireless companies working with Huawei, even after a 2012 government report (PDF) warned that equipment from Huawei and ZTE could be used by the Chinese government for espionage? That’s simple: Huawei equipment is apparently good and cheap.
“[James Valley Telecommunications (JVT)] chose Huawei because it was the most cost-effective option with a 40% savings versus the 2nd most cost-effective option,” wrote James Groft, the carrier’s CEO. “Huawei is also consequently our primary provider of customer support services, such as installation of new equipment and software upgrades. Huawei is highly cost-effective and it provides excellent customer service. Before contracting with Huawei, JVT had a series of terrible experiences with another, higher priced vendor. Huawei’s service record, while not perfect, has resulted in fewer and less severe coverage outages for our customers. Huawei is there when our customers need them.”
In this line of business, companies often have to subsist on small budgets, and while such rural networks do occasionally receive federal and state subsidies in the United States, the operators know better than to count on the flow of money from their local capitals or from Washington. Additionally, sometimes American companies’ personal experiences with European GSM equipment makers and service providers has been, honestly not the best. [Author’s disclosure here] – I worked with two such US carriers and the experience with European core network partners often featured a measure of condescension (GSM technology is way ahead of anything the US had in cellular, so its creators appeared to feel a bit superior) and as noted above, there appears to be a bad service record. Huawei’s people were friendly, expert and eager and excited to help. Their engineers worked with ours and the relationships developed were solid and friendly.
The experience with Huawei seems to be uniformly constant with everyone who works with them. Perhaps it is simply the Chinese work and social ethos, but such an experience goes a long way.
The US has blundered in really odd ways in recent years, in matters such as trying to get Europeans to by American natural gas, shipped across the Atlantic by ships, while Russia lies just next door to many European countries, and can offer the same fuel for far cheaper – just hook up to the pipeline. Huawei has made great progress – their networks were always good, but their handsets had some catching up to do in order to meet the levels of South Korean Samsung, and of course Apple, and they have done so.
However, the geopolitical game seems to be in operation in both cases, and if carried out, it will only make life expensive and miserable for many thousands of people while the politicians and fat cats in DC and Europe can celebrate “stamping out the threats” of what is really likely only free market competition.
Part III will examine the fight as it presently exists.