Huawei indictments, ImageQuest, cybersecurity

The controversy over a leading 5G technology firm, Huawei of China, intensified last week when
the U.S. Department of Justice accused it of racketeering and stealing trade secrets.

The federal indictment accuses Huawei and several of its subsidiaries of a decades-long effort to “misappropriate” intellectual property, such as source code and user manuals for internet routers, antenna technology, and robot testing technology. Some news outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, said some of the intellectual property came from Cisco, T-Mobile U.S., and Motorola.

The indictment included earlier allegations that Huawei and its U.S. subsidiaries also did “technology projects” in Iran and North Korea, in violation of U.S. sanctions against those countries, and lied about that work to U.S. investigators.

Turmoil increased when U.S. intelligence officials said they had proof the company retains secret access to the law enforcement “back doors” included in mobile phone equipment. The WSJ quoted unnamed “senior U.S. officials,” saying the U.S. discovered the company retained secret access to the equipment in 2009 with early 4G gear.

Huawei is the acknowledged leader in the 5G equipment industry. It is the world’s largest network equipment maker and the No. 2 smartphone vendor, according to the WSJ.

The allegations have thrown 5G development in the U.S. into some turmoil, as experts consider Huawei far ahead of 5G equipment competitors Nokia Corp. and Ericsson AB.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr has even been urging incentives for telecom companies to invest in Nokia or Ericsson to build a 5G network that is not reliant on Huawei technology and equipment.

While the U.S. rollout of 5G could be impacted by U.S. trade relations, other countries, including China, may forge ahead. Great Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson approved the limited use of Huawei 5G gear with restrictions that bar the company’s equipment from sensitive locations and inclusion in core network elements. And certainly China will rapidly develop its 5G network.

Phone carriers in the U.S. and Europe are considering new options, including open-source network development, Bloomberg reported. But most experts say not using Huawei equipment will disrupt 5G development in the U.S.

Huawei, which has denied all allegations against it, says China and Europe are its major customers. The company says it does only a small amount of business in the U.S.