By Andy Purdy, Chief Security Officer at Huawei Technologies USA
Banning Huawei and other Chinese telecommunications equipment manufacturers in the United States won’t make our country safer – to the contrary it will create a false sense of security that could inadvertently increase risk. On top of that, such a ban will damage the American economy by putting many jobs and businesses at risk – as well as stifle our technological progress.
Given all these issues, bans are a far cry from the solution we need to keep America safe, economically strong and technologically forward-thinking. We have to be more creative by addressing safety needs as well as what’s smart for us industrially. The solution we need is testing.
Testing is both safer and smarter than banning.
Other countries embrace uniform testing across vendors – not discriminating on their country of origin. In the United Kingdom, government representatives have overseen a Huawei testing center for the last eight years. The UK government has called this center the “most rigorous” in the world. Huawei also opened a testing center in Bonn, Germany last November and another in Brussels earlier this year. It should be able to open similar centers in the US. At the very least, the US should take an approach similar to how Germany encouraged all telecom vendors to establish independent verification labs where third-party experts could vet code for vulnerabilities.
We need stringent standards to uniformly and comprehensively test the code of all vendors entering U.S. networks. For safety reasons, the critical question shouldn’t be from which country a company originates but rather whether the company passes the security test or not.
US policymakers at least talk the talk on this front:
•On March 18, senior Trump administration officials, speaking to reporters on background, emphasized that U.S. cybersecurity efforts are “country- and company-agnostic.”
•A U.S. Department of Homeland Security strategy document released last spring didn’t target specific countries on the false assumption that only the products of companies from certain countries are vulnerable.
It’s time that we also start walking the walk. Our government needs to set non-discriminatory, uniform but strict testing procedures, having open and transparent discussions with companies along the way. That means holding our own homegrown American companies, many of whom manufacture and operate extensively in China (including some of the most famous and trusted names out there), just as accountable as companies from all around the world.
If any country’s relationship with technology should have a truly global, expansive approach to technology, it’s the United States. This is both a country of immigrants and one of fundamentally inclusive values, where people from all corners of the world, with diverse ethnic, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, sexualities, sexual identities, genders and life experiences coexist.
By not creating uniform testing standards, we don’t just risk our safety and security – we also hinder our economic and technological progress by making premature assumptions about which countries’ technologies are secure and which ones aren’t, inadvertently blocking diversity of innovation and global perspectives in our market. For innovation to meet its true potential and meet the varying needs of our diverse population, it needs to leverage all perspectives,from all people.
It’s because we don’t have testing standards in place that we are simply banning companies based on origin. In the 30 years since Huawei emerged, there hasn’t been a shred of evidence to legitimately call into doubt the company’s security or suggest a breach. The company has 500 telecom customers globally who are benefitting from its unique, innovative solutions that meet their specific needs.
Let’s also not forget that Huawei is the world’s largest telecom operator – by excluding it from the market merely because we don’t have uniform testing standards and instead are taking the easy road by making sweeping assumptions about Chinese companies, we’re reducing competition, driving up costs, chilling investments and forcing consumers to pay higher prices for more limited products and services. Additionally, more than 90 percent of wireless equipment in the U.S. is sold by only two companies, Ericsson and Nokia. Smaller wireless operators have been expressing dissatisfaction about this duopoly for years, as it has raised the prices they’ve been forced to pay for network equipment when needing to rely on these vendors.
By banning instead of testing, we’re also putting at risk many American jobs and businesses. It would force small U.S. operators to scrap the hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of equipment they bought from Huawei and then have to purchase replacements. Some smaller carriers could be driven into bankruptcy by the cost of ripping out existing gear and repurchasing it from larger vendors that charge higher prices. This would also affect their customers: the homes, schools, libraries, and small businesses that rely on the operators to provide connectivity in parts of the U.S. not served by the big telecom companies. American farmers relying on technology to operate their complex business operations and feed the world, would also take a hit as a result of losing the infrastructure and connectivity options they need.
Huawei was the fifth-largest investor in R&D worldwide last year, outspending companies such as Apple, Intel, and GE. Huawei began researching 5G wireless technology 10 years ago, and so far has invested more than $2 billion in 5G research, including $800 million last year alone. Britain’s largest telecom operator, BT, called Huawei the “only true 5G supplier right now.” Banning Huawei would prevent many small U.S. wireless carriers from expanding their networks and upgrading to more advanced 5G technology, keeping them from offering new and better services and leading to fewer jobs and opportunities.
We need testing, not banning. Testing may require more planning and investment than a simple ban, but in the end, it is the most safe, smart and responsible option if we want to keep America’s best interests at heart.