Huawei's security czar won't crack US blocks

Caroline Gabriel/Wireless Watch
09 Aug 2011

Huawei has made its latest move to assuage security fears in key markets, by appointing its first global cybersecurity officer. It has hired the former UK government chief information officer John Suffolk, who will report directly to CEO Ren Zhengfei.

The main aim is clearly to improve Huawei's chances of getting infrastructure business in the US, where it has been almost entirely excluded from major deals by security concerns. Its chances look slim, given the depth of feeling against the Chinese major, and since it has missed the current round of major wireless upgrades - but it could improve its access to other important markets.

If it were to convince US authorities to clear it to supply major cellcos, this would be a significant blow to the dominant wireless infrastructure vendors in the country, Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent. It would also hit Samsung, which is leveraging its Wimax base – matched only by Huawei's – to get entry to LTE and mixed-network contracts like Sprint's Network Vision. And it would be unwelcome to makers of core and edge routers, markets where Huawei is on the rise too, challenging Cisco, Alcatel-Lucent and Juniper.

In the RAN, Huawei has secured the second place in the world market even without the US – and with a major hiatus in sales to India last year, although the firm has now been cleared to supply infrastructure, subject to the country's new and stringent security rules.

The Chinese firm has been thwarted in major infrastructure tenders and in acquisition bids by US suspicion. The accusations that Huawei has close ties to the Chinese military and intelligence, and that it is going to use telecom systems to “spy for Beijing,” can be put down to genuine concerns, paranoia or a cynical bid to keep a major non-western contender out of key deals. But whatever the case, Huawei has been excluded from many deals, most recently a place in Sprint's massive Network Vision contract, on the insistence of security agencies.

The firm is making big efforts to reassure governments. It has pledged major R&D and manufacturing investment in India, the US and other countries; repeatedly denied all the allegations, many of which stem back to Zhengfei's stint with the Chinese People‟s Liberation Army; revealed its sourcecode in India and the UK, and offered to do the same in the US; and allowed ongoing monitoring through a company called Electronic Warfare Associates (EWA).

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