When I managed PR for Alcatel-Lucent (since acquired by Nokia) in Australia in 2010 – before its contract with NBN Co was inked – Huawei was a highly-respected, hugely legitimate threat, and the company’s key competitor.
Reflecting on the timeline since, I have a – perhaps controversial – quiet respect for the Chinese multinational. For the best part of the last two decades, it has challenged the ongoing criticism of its operations with a firm but quiet dignity and maintained spectacular performance figures, with its Q1 2019 revenues up 39% year-on-year.
Since 2001, Huawei has been accused of aiding the Taliban, intellectual property theft and having shadowy ties to Chinese army and intelligence services. In 2012, it worked to create an oversight board in Australia to examine its equipment – with former foreign minister Alexander Downer leading the effort – only to be banned from participating in the National Broadband Network later that year.
National security allegations and industrial espionage controversies continued in the years to come; Huawei was implicated in Wikileaks’ Vault 7 release in 2017, then the Australian parliament voiced concerns about the telco exerting too much control over the world's 5G network.
The operative words here are allegations, accusations, criticisms and concerns. None of these have been proven and have been denied again and again by Huawei’s executives – and now, the Australian government has banned the multinational from the Australian 5G network rollout on incorrect technical information.
Is this ban warranted – or fair? The fact that Huawei is far and away the leader in 5G network infrastructure and that its business units are maintaining stellar performance seems a little too convenient. Is Australia simply falling in step with the ‘Five Eyes’ alliance, buoyed by our infamous tall poppy syndrome?
Huawei Chief Executives, Ken Hu and Richard Yu, summed it up well at Mobile World Congress in February 2018: "The view that a company headquartered in China cannot be trusted is problematic. Technology is a global value chain, and many components come from China.
“Some of our competitors…can't compete with us on the technology and innovation so they compete with us on the politics. We're independent from any country, any government. We're not involved in politics."
Much of the background of the decision to ban Huawei participating 5G infrastructure would be based on classified information from intelligence circles. There are likely factors in the decision which will not be publicly available.