Huawei as a company is no stranger to controversy, accusations and suspicions have been levelled at the company since they made the decision to go global.
Australians, in particular, have few qualms about expressing their distrust of the company, a lot of which comes back to western discomfort with how the Chinese government operates.
But is this perception warranted?
Huawei Australia chairperson and former rear admiral in the Australian Navy John Lord says that it is not.
“Many accusations are made about Huawei but none of these are proven,” he states in a recent speech to the National Press Club of Australia in which he outlines why he believes that Huawei is not only is trustworthy but can potentially be a huge benefit for Australia’s technological landscape.
“In late 2012 I was paying $60 per month for a mobile service where I had only 200 dollars of calls and 1.5 Gigabytes of data per month,” Lord says.
“Today, with that same telco, I pay $44 for 600 dollars of calls and 10 gigabytes of data. I also have wider coverage, and with at least 10x faster speeds because of 4G. Why? It’s competition. Huawei’s presence drives competition in the market and the telcos, and their Australian customers benefit. We bring competition in pricing and also in technology.”
Why does he think that Huawei has this power? Where does the impression that Huawei can offer better and cheaper services and products come from?
“Increasingly Chinese businesses are supplying world-leading equipment for Australian miners, farmers and service sectors,” Lord explains.
“China now spends $200 billion a year on innovation. The OECD expects China to be the world’s largest spender on R&D by 2019... Those who have engaged in this Smart China understand there is a new breed of “can-do” entrepreneurs, who are young, highly educated, motivated and most importantly able to adapt quickly and nimbly to rapidly changing."
No matter how advanced and innovative a company is, if they are potentially going to put our economy and safety at risk we don’t want them to have power here, right?
Lord explains that for Huawei, it feels like no matter how transparent and open they are, they are getting it from both sides.
“We often joke in Huawei that outside of China we are seen as the ‘untrustworthy communists’, and inside of China we are viewed as the ‘greedy capitalists’,” Lord says.
“We now provide more than one-third of the world’s population with their daily communications needs. With such reach, it is no surprise Huawei receives plenty of attention from global regulators and security agencies. As our global head of cybersecurity John Suffolk often says, we are the most poked, prodded and audited company on the planet.
Lord outlines what he says are five enduring myths about Huawei they it has not done a good job in dispelling.
“Myth 1: We get cheap loans or lines of credit from Chinese Banks - Wrong, in fact, 80% of every dollar of our financing comes from non-Chinese global banks, two of these are Australian banks.
“Myth 2: We have a communist party cell that runs Huawei - Yes, there is a communist party branch in Huawei… it’s the law. It meets in non-working hours and looks after staff social issues and activities.
“Myth 3: Huawei has to cooperate and collaborate in intelligence work - The law actually contains safeguards that discharge individuals and organisations from providing support that would contradict their legitimate rights and interests.
“And that law has no legitimacy outside China. We obey the laws of every country in which we operate in. In Australia, we follow Australian laws. To do otherwise would be corporate suicide.
“Myth 4: The UK Government regrets having Huawei in the UK - I think George Osbourne, the then UK Chancellor best summed it up when he said “There are some western Governments that blocked Huawei from making investments, not Britain, quite the opposite.”
“Myth 5: Huawei is asking to do something here that China won’t allow foreign companies to do in China. False, Nokia and Ericsson are both undertaking 5G work in China.”
In addition to those claims, Lord also says that Huawei has been examined extensively by a variety of organisations worried about privacy and cybersecurity and “no evidence of any sort has been provided to justify these concerns by anyone - ever.”
If we accept Lord’s position that Huawei is on the level then we need to determine what, except for market competition, the company has to offer Australia.
“Today Huawei is the largest supplier of mobile broadband in Australia, we provide the equipment for Optus, Vodafone and TPG,” says Lord.
“We have also built Australia’s largest private 4G network across the Cooper Basin for Santos. With our partner UGL, we have built Australia’s largest mobile communications system for railways on the Sydney metro rail system. Huawei has invested in Australian Innovation development, we invested $20 million in an Australian National Training & Innovation Centre in Sydney.
“We take 30 university students to our headquarters and R&D facilities each year to learn about next-generation technology. This program is partly funded by the Australian Government through the New Colombo Plan. We opened Australia’s first NB-IoT Lab with James Cook University, a world first for Huawei and this lab is now leading global development in IoT (Internet of Things) implementation.”
Whether this will allays concerns about the Chinese tech giant providing critical IT services for the country is up to each Australian individually, but Lord is convinced that Huawei can, and will, make a difference.
“Australia cannot sit back and think it can isolate itself from the technology rise of Asia,” he concludes.
“To do so would impact on us economically and remove ourselves from world-leading technology, while our trading competitors take full advantage of better technology, cheaper costs for that technology and benefit from the productivity gains that flow.
“With a vast continent like Australia, we need the best telecommunications to keep us on that digital prosperity. The suggestions that Huawei, the largest provider of 4G technology in Australia today, should be banned from building 5G networks here should be a concern for everyone and every business in Australia.
“In saying no to one of the leading 5G suppliers in the world, what are we doing?”