Monday, 21 October 2019 16:50

Is Huawei really a threat? (Opinion)

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The USA and Australia have both banned Huawei from government contracts. The reasons have never been spelt out. Meanwhile the company is leading the way in 5G and Australia will – yet again – pay more for inferior technology.

 

It is now seven years since the Labor Government announced that Huawei would be banned from the NBN. And it is one year since the Coalition Government announced that Huawei would be banned from supplying any equipment for Australia’s 5G network.

So long as the US and Australia refuse to detail just exactly what their gripes are with Huawei, there remains the suspicion that it’s a political rather than a technological issue. No evidence has ever been offered that Huawei is a security concern. “I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you,” or words to that effect, is about the best they can do.

I’ve watched Huawei in Australia since they set up here in 2004. Huawei, like many vendors, treated Australia as an important test market, English-speaking and technologically advanced, small enough to test strategies inexpensively but big enough to have critical mass.

Huawei did much more than it needed to do in Australia. It established an impressive board and reporting structure as if it were a public company. It appointed as chairman John Lord, a respected retired RAN Admiral. Board members were of the top calibre, including ex-politicians and leading business figures.

A few years ago, as a writer-for-hire, I did a bit of work for Huawei, putting together users stories and case studies. As part of that work I interviewed many of Huawei’s corporate customers. I was amazed at how positive they were about the company, especially its value for money and good service. I’ve done a lot of this sort of work over the years, and I have never come across users that have praised a vendor so highly.

So, yes I’ve done some work for Huawei and yes, they’ve brought me here to Zurich, and yes, I have a Huawei laptop (which I paid full retail for). But looking at it objectively as I can, I can’t help but think the company has been shoddily treated by the Australian Government. Why won’t it  tell us why Huawei is banned? Where is the evidence of wrongdoing, or even potential wrongdoing?

TPG founder David Teoh is dead right when he said that the ban will increase the costs for all Australian telcos – costs that will of course be passed on to Australian consumers.

US hypocrisy knows no bounds. In slavishly following the American’s lead, Australia is just as bad. Worse, in fact, because we are doing it just to pander to the Yanks. There are many documented examples of the US Government forcing tech companies to build backdoors in their security systems to facilitate cyber spying. And we know Australia is not above bugging foreign leaders for the commercial advantage of Australian companies. Spare me the self-righteousness.

Banning Huawei equipment will not even work. The world is a vastly interconnected place. Huawei gear is everywhere. You can’t quarantine any company from its products.

Chinese influence in Australia has been in the news lately. China is spying on and intimidating its citizens in Australia, it is bribing our politicians, it is heavying anybody critical of its policies. Closer to home it imprisoning hundreds of thousands of Uighurs in its remote west and breaking its "one country, two systems" promises to Hong Kong.

It bullies anybody that cosies up to Taiwan, claiming that island as part of China although it was never part of the Middle Kingdom (and look what it did to Tibet?). It is a surveillance state where dissent is not allowed.

China has been abominably treated by the West over the past few hundred years. Now, as it returns to the Big League, it is throwing its weight around. China takes the long view. When Mao’s offsider Zhou Enlai was asked what effect he thought the French Revolution had had on the world, he said it was “too early to tell".

We may distrust China, for good reason. But it is drawing a long bow to suggest its largest and most impressive non-government company is part of the Chinese Government’s grand plan for world domination. Banning Huawei is a vindictive, pointless and ultimately counterproductive act.

It exacerbates international tensions. It will end up costing Australians money. It will ensure we get a suboptimal 5G network. But most of all, it achieves nothing – even the exact opposite have what it intends.

The writer visited Zurich and Brussels as a guest of Huawei.

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Graeme Philipson

Graeme Philipson is senior associate editor at iTWire. He is one of Australia’s longest serving and most experienced IT journalists. He is author of the only definitive history of the Australian IT industry, ‘A Vision Splendid: The History of Australian Computing.’

He has been in the high tech industry for more than 30 years, most of that time as a market researcher, analyst and journalist. He was founding editor of MIS magazine, and is a former editor of Computerworld Australia. He was a research director for Gartner Asia Pacific and research manager for the Yankee Group Australia. He was a long time weekly IT columnist in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and is a recipient of the Kester Award for lifetime achievement in IT journalism.

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