Texas Judge rules for White House over Huawei

Huawei has faced a setback in its pursuit of legitimacy in the US. as a Texas District Court ruled against its lawsuit directed towards the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Judge Amos Mazzant of the US District Court in East Texas ruled that section 889 of the NDAA was valid and legal. Huawei had argued the clause, which effectively banned it and ZTE from working with any company receiving federal funding, was unconstitutional on the grounds it presumed guilt without a fair trial.

While a Huawei victory was hardly going to make an impression with the single-minded White House policy makers, this is a victory for the Government, seemingly validating its decision.

“Contracting with the federal government is a privilege, not a constitutionally guaranteed right – at least not as far as this court is aware,” Judge Mazzant said in the ruling, first reported by Reuters.

This is an interesting nuance which has been put forward by Judge Mazzant. Huawei has argued the clause banning service providers from spending federal money on Chinese equipment is unconstitutional, though Judge Mazzant has stated that the Government should have the right to control how its money is allocated and spent. The Act does not prevent Huawei from doing business in the US entirely, which keeps the Government on the right side of the line.

The lawsuit, which was filed in March 2019, stated that Congress was acting in violation of the US Constitution as it was denying the firm the right to bid on both Government and private sector contracts. Huawei suggested the Act was a Bill of Attainder, as it presumed guilt without trial. Under Article I Section 9 in federal law, and in state law under Article I Section 10, US Constitution forbids such actions.

For the US, this could add some momentum to the already existing propaganda campaign against China and seemingly all companies from China. This ruling could add buoyancy to the Simple Resolution which has recently been passed in the House of Representatives.

The resolution, which can be used to influence administrative actions and foreign policy, stated that the House of Representatives believed all Chinese countries were effectively under Government control, state-owned or private. Such a broad-brush approach to condemnation is a very dangerous and small-minded approach to take, though the anti-China rhetoric could be offered a new lease of live…

US reportedly moves to restrict all Huawei access to US chip tech

The US Department of Commerce is said to be weighing new options to further limit Huawei’s access to the semiconductor technologies coming out the American companies.

The Wall Street Journal reported (behind paywall) that the DoC is working on changes to the remit of the “foreign direct product rule” to demand Huawei’s chip suppliers to apply for special licences if they use American technologies and American equipment. The rule currently “restricts foreign companies’ use of U.S. technology for military or national-security products”.

The measures have been mooted for a few weeks but have only just been put forward. President Trump is yet to review it, and not everyone in the administration is in favour of the changes, the newspaper reported. Semiconductor is one of America’s biggest export sectors to China.

The new rules could become a deterrent to all the semiconductor foundries for Huawei, including the Chinese companies, as they could be relying on technologies owned by or using equipment made by American companies. They could be forced to choose between holding on to Huawei as a customer or keeping their legitimate access to American technologies.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Limited (TSMC), the world’s largest contract chip maker, is said to have generated more than 10% of its $35 billion annual income from fabrication for HiSilicon, Huawei’s fabless chip design subsidiary, according to estimate cited by WSJ.

Over the past year, despite the US restrictions on semiconductor export to Huawei, many businesses have managed to continue their business without a special licence, if they could prove the proportion of American-made value is lower than 25% of the total value. The DoC has proposed to lower the threshold to 10%.

If the new measures should enter into force, they would not only disperse the optimism for the telecoms industry following the “Phase-1” trade deal signed between the US and China, but also represent a new escalation of the Trump Administration’s efforts to further hamstring Huawei. Semiconductor fabrication has been an area that China has struggled to gain on their American competitors.

It would also be seen as part of the concerted government actions towards this purpose. The Defense Department has recently dropped its opposition to the government’s efforts to restrict American chip makers to supply Huawei through their overseas facilities.

The WSJ report comes days after the DoJ announced a set of superseding indictments, also days after the DoC granted 45 days extension to Huawei’s “Temporary General License”. At the time of writing, Huawei has not responded to Telecoms.com’s request for comment.

Apple takes double hit in China due to coronavirus

Gadget giant Apple has downgraded its quarterly forecast due to greater than expected supply and demand constraints caused by the coronavirus outbreak in China.

Referring to it by its official new name – COVID-19 – Apple said the outbreak has had a double negative effect on its business in China. On the supply side most (if not all) of Apple manufacturing is done in China. Massive manufacturers, such as Foxconn, have had their operations severely limited by the Chinese government as it tries to limit the spread of the disease, which means they haven’t been making stuff. These restrictions have been greater than Apple previously reckoned.

On the demand side, loads of shops have also been closed, meaning sales of iPhones, etc have apparently dropped off a cliff in China. Once more the restrictions to the retail sector seem to have been greater and more prolonged than Apple had anticipated. There were no specific numbers offered in the investor update, but Apple shares fell by 3% on the news.

“Outside of China, customer demand across our product and service categories has been strong to date and in line with our expectations,” said the update. Note there was no comment about Apple’s ability to fulfil that demand, what with Foxconn on a go-slow and all that. Apple famously likes to keep a very lean supply chain so it seems unlikely there’s much redundancy built into it.

Having said that, Apple customers are very loyal and if they have to wait a few weeks for their next fix of silicon loveliness then they probably will. So while Apple’s (and presumably their competitors’) Q1 2020 numbers may take a hit on the coronavirus disruption, they’ll probably compensate the following quarter and we’ll be back to business as usual. Which in Apple’s case means accumulating more money than it knows what to do with.

US Ambassador to Germany starts making intel sharing threats

Richard Grenell, the US Ambassador to Germany, has starting the intimidation game with his host nation over Huawei, hoping the same tactic used against the UK will reap better yields.

In a series of tweets through the weekend, Grenell made his position on Huawei very clear, aligning himself with the anti-China rhetoric lobby which is beginning to verge on xenophobic. The Ambassador has now reiterated the intelligence embargo which was promised to the UK should it offer Huawei opportunity to do business.

Perhaps one of the most ironic elements of this story is the phone call itself. President Donald Trump has reportedly refused to use encrypted phones, due to the inconvenience, so any conversation he has is completely unprotected.

Irrelevant of whether the concepts of irony gain traction in the US, Grenell is effectively declaring that he has been given permission to take a firm stance against Germany. Although there has been no official confirmation, Germany will most likely be offered an ultimatum; access US intelligence data or have Huawei equipment in the communications network.

Although most of the transatlantic-lobby has been directed towards the UK in recent months, thanks to the now-concluded Supply Chain Review, Germany is another influential voice in Europe which is yet to formalise its position on Huawei. The US might have lost the political battle in the UK, but it still has until the EU Summit in March to convince the Germans China is the enemy.

There might have been some noises that Germany would head the same direction as the UK, but Chancellor Angela Merkel has previously said Germany would not make a decision until the EU Summit in March. Like the UK, Germany has a valuable trading relationship with the US, but it also has one with China. There is also the ambitions of the wider European Union to consider, where Germany is one of the leading voices.

Looking at the relationship with China, Germany’s highly influential automotive sector will not want to lose out because of issues with the telecoms industry. In 2018, almost one-quarter of all cars sold in China were German. In the first nine months of 2019, BMW delivered more than 500,000 vehicles to China, its largest single market.

As it stands, the automotive industry in China is not in the greatest of positions, sales have slumped over the last 18 months, while the US/China trade war has impacted the ability for these automotive giants to source some parts. The conflict between the US and China is not good for the German automotive trade, and this is a very powerful organisation in the German economy.

Germany may not want to say no to Huawei and anger the Chinese, but then again it might not have to.

The US, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, had been very aggressive towards the UK in the weeks leading up to the conclusion of the Supply Chain Review. When the carrot didn’t work, promising a favourable trade agreement, the stick was favoured. The threat of an intelligence data embargo for security agencies was pushed towards the UK, like Grenell is doing today.

The issue that Grenell might face here is that the US didn’t follow through on that threat to the UK.

The conclusion of the Supply Chain Review saw a 35% limitation placed on the telcos for Huawei equipment in the different segments of the network. This has proven to be awkward for some, having to reconfigure deployment strategies, though it is far from the apocalypse scenario of an all-out ban which was being demanding by the US.

The UK defied the US, but the US is yet to cut off the UK from valuable intelligence data for security and enforcement agencies. Considering this outcome, some in Germany might not take the US threat as seriously as before.

Huawei dismisses fresh US racketeering charges

Huawei has publicly rebutted the new superseding charges of racketeering and trade secret theft filed by the US Department of Justice.

Officials from the DoJ and the FBI announced the charges against Huawei as well as two of its official subsidiaries, Huawei Device Co. Ltd. (Huawei Device), Huawei Device USA Inc. (Huawei USA), and two of its unofficial subsidiaries, Futurewei Technologies Inc. (Futurewei) and Skycom Tech Co. Ltd. (Skycom). Also on the defendants list is Huawei’s CFO, Meng Wanzhou (Meng), already in detention in Canada fighting her extradition case. The new charges being a superseding indictment means it contains and expands on the earlier charges officially announced in January 2019. As a result, most of cases listed out in detail in the full document are familiar to those following the Huawei vs. USA saga closely.

Huawei denies all the charges. “This new indictment is part of the Justice Department’s attempt to irrevocably damage Huawei’s reputation and its business for reasons related to competition rather than law enforcement,” the company said in a statement. “These new charges are without merit and are based largely on recycled civil disputes from last 20 years that have been previously settled, litigated and in some cases, rejected by federal judges and juries. The government will not prevail on its charges, which we will prove to be both unfounded and unfair.”

The charges broadly fall into two categories: racketeering and breaking US international sanctions.

Most of them fall into the first category. The DoJ alleges that Huawei and the associated parties have violated the 1970 “Racketeer Influenced and Corruptions Act (RICO)”. The law, targeted at organised crimes, lists 35 types of offenses that may qualify as “racketeering”, from bribery and kidnapping to obstruction of criminal investigation by law enforcement agencies and everything in between. In the present case, the DoJ accused Huawei of “misappropriated intellectual property included trade secret information and copyrighted works, such as source code and user manuals for internet routers, antenna technology and robot testing technology”, then, after winning unfair competitive advantages, Huawei and its subsidiaries reinvesting the gains from this “alleged racketeering activity in Huawei’s worldwide business, including in the United States.”

Specifically this category of actions allegedly include “entering into confidentiality agreements with the owners of the intellectual property and then violating the terms of the agreements by misappropriating the intellectual property for the defendants’ own commercial use” and poaching competitor employees the “directing them to misappropriate their former employers’ intellectual property”, as well as “using proxies such as professors working at research institutions to obtain and provide the technology to the defendants.” Huawei is also alleged to have incentivised its employees for obtaining the most valuable competitor information.

When it comes to breaking sanctions, the indictment, updated with more details, is against Huawei and its subsidiaries’ alleged “business and technology projects in countries subject to U.S., E.U. and/or U.N. sanctions, such as Iran and North Korea – as well as the company’s efforts to conceal the full scope of that involvement.”

Meanwhile, the Department of Commerce decided to renew the Temporary General License for Huawei for 45 more days, which means American companies can have another one and half months to do business with Huawei legally while moving “to alternative sources of equipment, software and technology”, the DoC said.

In response to the DoC decision, Huawei reiterated its position that it should be removed the government’s Entity List completely instead of being granted one at a time. Not doing so “has done significant economic harm to the American companies with which Huawei does business, and has already disrupted collaboration and undermined the mutual trust on which the global supply chain depends,” the company said in an emailed statement.

Incidentally, while the DoJ alleged Huawei of using scholars to gain access to advanced technologies otherwise unavailable to it, the Department of Education has launched an investigation into gifts from foreign governments to America’s top universities, with Harvard and Yale being singled out. These two schools as well as other Ivy League and leading schools including Georgetown, Texas A&M, Cornell, Rutgers, MIT, and Maryland, have failed to declare fundings from Qatar, China, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The DoE said since its enforcement efforts started in July last year, $6.5 billion previously undisclosed foreign money has been reported.

The crackdown on the US academics’ links to the Chinese government went up a notch when late last month, Charles Lieber, the chair of Harvard University’s department of chemistry and chemical biology and one of the world’s leading nanoscientists, was arrested for lying about his link with Chinese government-sponsored lab in China as well as the hefty payments ($50,000 per month) he received.

US throws more mud at Huawei

US Government officials have been baiting the line of deceit for Huawei once again, this time half-accusing the vendor of maintaining backdoor entry to networks through its equipment.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, the officials have suggested Huawei has access to backdoors built into communications infrastructure equipment which were intended for law enforcement agencies. It is not entirely clear how these backdoors have been built, how they have remained secret for so long, or why Huawei is the only company which can access them, but this is apparently the evidence the US has been hinting at for so long.

While it might sound like a ludicrous idea, the US Government knows it is possible to build backdoors into communications infrastructure equipment because it has done so frequently in the past. In 2013, Edward Snowden came forward with evidence to prove the National Security Agency (NSA) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was spying on national and international citizens with zero accountability via products made by Cisco and Juniper Networks.

What is not entirely clear from the statements made from the US officials is whether Huawei is actually doing anything about it. The officials have told the WSJ that there are backdoors, and Huawei is aware of them, however, there is no assertion that any nefarious behaviour has been undertaken.

Huawei is yet to make comment on the matter for the moment, though the question remains whether it actually has to do so just yet. The US has been making these accusations for some time, and this might just be another twist on the argument. Until evidence of the backdoor is verified, or that Huawei actually spied on anyone at the behest of the Chinese Government, this is little more than another wave of US propaganda.

Although these claims are more specific than others which have been made in the past, it will be interesting to see whether it is validated by anyone else. European Governments have asked the US to present them with a smoking gun if they were to consider banning Huawei, and it has not done so yet. Presumably the US officials have approached counterparts in allied nations to coincide with this PR campaign through the WSJ, otherwise the credibility falls straight to the floor.

This might be one of the strongest accusations made by the US to date, but if European Governments are not taking action it is either because (a) the US officials have not presented this evidence to them, or (b) the evidence is not deemed sufficient to make a decision on banning the vendor. The coming days and weeks will fill in some of the blanks, but if no action is taken by European Governments, this should be chalked up as nothing more than a PR campaign to turn the tides of public opinion.

The US Government might be losing the battle to turn public opinion in Europe against Huawei, but that is because it has not yet presented anything aside from rhetoric and suspicion. And it is easy to understand why the US Government is so suspicious and worried over espionage from the Chinese Government, given its own rich history in the matter.

Benign brother has got your back: China launches coronavirus app

China’s government bodies and businesses have jointly launched a mobile app to help detect if people have been in close contact with those suspected of carrying the novel coronavirus.

The app has access to multiple official holders of private data. By registering with his or her name and Chinese ID number, a smartphone user can use the app, called “Close Contact Detector” to check if he or she has been in proximity of those who are later either confirmed or suspected to have the virus. Such close contacts include travelling in the same train carriage or sitting within three rows on the same flight with those carrying the virus.

One registered user can check the status of up to three users by inputting their ID numbers and names. One ID number is limited to one check per day. The app will then return an assessment of which category the individual in question falls into: Confirmed case, Suspected case, Close contact, Normal. Xinhua, one of the major official propaganda outlets, reported that over 105 million checks have been made by users three days after the app was launched.

The app development was led by the government organisations responsible for health which was joined by China Electronics Technology Group, one of the country’s largest state-owned enterprises, as well as the leading smartphone makers Huawei, Xiaomi, OPPO, and Vivo. The backend data comes out of the National Health Commission, the Ministry of Transport, China State Railway Group Company, the state owned enterprise that operates all the rail transport in China, and the Civil Aviation Administration, the aviation regulator.

The fact that private travel data is made readily available to business entities without explicit consent from the individuals involved may raise plenty of eyebrows in places like Europe, but the attitude in China is different. “From a Chinese perspective this is a really useful service for people… It’s a really powerful tool that really shows the power of data being used for good,” Carolyn Bigg, a Hong Kong-based lawyer, told the BBC.

“Close Contact Detector” has been pushed out by the smartphone brands as a priority app to their users in China. It is unclear how or if promoting to users of other smartphone brands, iOS users, or non-smartphone users, will be conducted. Nor is it clear if there are plans to extend the coverage to residents without a Chinese ID number, such as foreign nationals staying in China.

Telecoms.com has learned that over the last few weeks there have been other online tools to help concerned users check if they had unknowingly come into contact with confirmed victims of the new coronavirus. The key difference from the new contact detector is that, in the earlier attempts, backend data was crowdsourced from publicly available information including the flight and train numbers of the confirmed cases published in the media.

Neither is contact detector the only use case where user data is playing a role. A recent video clip making rounds on social media shows a drone flying a blown-up QR code that drivers can scan to register before they enter Shenzhen after the long Chinese New Year break. The method is deployed presumably to prevent cars and drivers registered to the major disease hit regions from going through, as well as reduce human-to-human interaction. Xinhua reported that the Shenzhen Police, which is responsible for managing the local traffic and owns the automobile and driver data, is behind this measure.

Chinese attendance at MWC will be massively diminished

While the world is holding its breath gaping at the worsening coronavirus crisis, China’s leading telecom companies are already putting alternative plans in place.

Most are still planning to attend Mobile World Congress 2020, though with plenty of precautions. The death toll of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak has risen above 1,000, though the new cases reported have declined, according to the official numbers from China. While the world is getting more nervous, with more companies pulling out the upcoming Mobile World Congress, some of the world’s biggest telecom companies based in China, where the epidemic originated, have rolled out alternative plans to cope with the downturn during the crisis and are looking towards the revival afterwards.

All the companies that are still planning to attend the Barcelona event have told the media that they will follow the precaution measures issued by GSMA. However, Telecoms.com has learned from China-based staff of a few global companies, who had planned to accompany their operator customers to the show, that most of the senior representatives from the Chinese operators have scrapped their travel plans. They have found the two-week self-imposed isolation in Europe not practical.

According to a report by Yicai, a Shanghai-based business publication, IDC has estimated that the total smartphone shipment in China will go down by 40% in the first two months of the year, as a result of the epidemic’s battering on the retail industry. Companies like Xiaomi, OPPO, and Vivo, all on the global smartphone leaderboard, have planned to launch new flagship products at the beginning of the year. They have modified the launch plans, if not changing the dates. Xiaomi, for example, has moved the launch event this week online, through live streaming. Honor, Huawei’s sub-brand, is also going to conduct its first launch of the year online.

A source inside OPPO told Yicai that the staff attending MWC have already arrived in Europe, so that they can self-quarantine for two weeks before the show starts. This is similar to the measures ZTE has announced with regard to its senior staff from China to attend the show in Barcelona. Vivo told Xinhua, one of China’s major official propaganda outlets, that its product launch event in China has been moved to online, but the company is going to appear at MWC and will launch its new products to the global markets as planned.

OPPO believes the coronavirus impact on its manufacturing is manageable, as the company has been making phones in India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Algeria, in addition to the main production base inside China. Vivo, on the other hand, has extended the Chinese New Year break at its manufacturing facilities till 10 February, as did the biggest OEMs Foxcomm and Inventec.

 

Mavenir looks to cash in on US xenophobia

At times, US anti-China rhetoric flirts with the line between protectionist and xenophobic, but that won’t bother the likes of Mavenir as it touts its All-American credentials.

It what appears to be a relatively unprompted submission, Mavenir lawyers have filed documents with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) stating the firm is as patriotically-US as apple pie, watery lager, high-powered rifles and gas-guzzling jeeps.

The objective here is quite clear; the US political administration does not like China, is prepared to spend big to supercharge an alternative telco vendor to the likes of Huawei or ZTE, and Mavenir wants to get rich as the establishment attempts to drown the success of China’s technology industry under the patronising veil of national security.

It is opportunism at its finest.

“Mavenir noted that it is the industry’s only US-owned, US-headquartered, end-to-end network software provider delivering OpenRAN and virtualized networks,” the filing states.

There are of course other companies who could be deemed American, though it appears they have their own faults. Parallel Wireless, for example, is headquartered in New England, is funded by Californian moneymen, but some of its founders are Indian. It almost ticked all the boxes!

Although it is an unusual strategy from Mavenir, it might work.

US politicians might be losing the political battle to extend its anti-China rhetoric throughout the world but presenting a genuine alternative might be one way to aid this propaganda campaign. An alternative which is also driving forward the attractive OpenRAN technology to add a cherry on top.

While it might still be a technology in its infancy, OpenRAN is capturing the hearts and minds of those who want to force through disruption in the RAN ecosystem. The Nokia/Ericsson/Huawei cartel does not present a significant amount of competition, which OpenRAN could help with, while it could also make the economics of 5G network deployment more attractive.

There are a few initiatives which are progressing around the world. Rakuten is deploying a fully virtualised network with the OpenRAN community at the heart. Admittedly it doesn’t have to worry about legacy technologies muddying the waters, but Vodafone, MTN, Telefonica and Etisalat are attempting to blend OpenRAN into a more traditional network work environment, with legacy complications and all.

Earlier this month, the Democrat Senator for Virginia Mark Warner introduced a new bill to Congress. The Utilizing Strategic Allied (USA) Telecommunications Act will aim to provide $1 billion to create Western-based alternatives to Chinese equipment providers Huawei and ZTE. This is the prize the Mavenir gold-diggers are chasing.

And to sweeten the deal, Mavenir has also suggested it is able to help the poor rural providers dig out the dangerous technology from naughty Huawei and ZTE. We suspect it will all be done for a patriotically attractive price, or at least attractive to the Mavenir swashbucklers.

This is what some might call underhanded PR, a tactic which is more at home on ‘The Thick of It’ than the telecommunications slugfest. But it is an excellent of opportunism, which will probably be successful for the All-American vendor.