UK government reported to be tapping up NEC for 5G network help

As part of a general rethink of the Huawei situation, the UK government seems to have decided it needs to do more than merely set vendor share thresholds.

The gossip comes courtesy of Bloomberg, via the SCMP. Having chatted to people who reckon they know a thing or two, the report claims “Officials spoke with Japanese technology company NEC Corp in May as part of efforts to diversify the range of telecommunications equipment providers for the UK’s 5G mobile networks.”

The rest of the piece goes on about political pressure from the US resulting in many parts of the government losing their nerve and wanting to do what whatever it takes to place Trump and co. It goes on to claim that no single company can currently step in to replace Huawei entirely, which seems to be the justification for government intervention.

That last claim is just wrong. There are no parts of the 5G network served by Huawei that don’t have Ericsson and Nokia equivalents and you have to wonder how Bloomberg thinks the US is coping without Huawei in any part of its networks. It feels like Bloomberg was fed that factoid by its ‘sources’ and has replicated it uncritically.

There is no need for the government to pick a winner when it comes to 5G kit. If it wants Huawei out then it simply has to mandate that. Operators are far better qualified to pick the best tech for the job than the state could ever be and if any of them fancy taking a look at NEC then they will. Hopefully the UK government is not planning to tell operators who they can work with, as well as who they can’t.

This story does coincide with a remarkable rise to prominence for NEC as a 5G player. Yesterday disruptive Japanese operator Rakuten revealed NEC as the primary vendor partner for its 5G core, having cultivated that relationship for a while. Over the course of a few months NEC has gone from being a bit-part player in mobile networks to everyone’s 5G secret weapon.

It’s far from contentious to assume the UK government is tapping up NEC for political reasons. It will be able to say to the US and its own MPs that it’s being proactive about the Huawei situation and is up to speed on the tech side. None of this has anything to do with the technological and commercial facts on the ground and we would expect UK operators to thank the government for trying to help, then ignore it and get on with the day job.

A look back at the biggest stories this week

Whether it’s important, depressing or just entertaining, the telecoms industry is always one which attracts attention.

Here are the stories we think are worth a second look at this week:


Facebook reignites the fires of its Workplace unit

Facebook has announced its challenge to the video-conferencing segment and a reignition of its venture into the world of collaboration and productivity.

Full story here


Trump needs fodder for the campaign trail, maybe Huawei fits the bill

A thriving economy and low levels of unemployment might have been the focal point of President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign, pre-pandemic, but fighting the ‘red under the bed’ might have to do now.

Full story here


Will remote working trends endure beyond lockdown?

It is most likely anyone reading this article is doing so from the comfort of their own home, but the question is whether this has become the new norm is a digitally defined economy?

Full story here


ZTE and China Unicom get started on 6G

Chinese kit vendor ZTE has decided now is a good time to announce it has signed a strategic cooperation agreement on 6G with operator China Unicom.

Full story here


ITU says lower prices don’t lead to higher internet penetration

The UN telecoms agency observes that, while global connectivity prices are going down, the relationship with penetration is not as inversely proportion as you might think.

Full story here


Jio carves out space for yet another US investor

It seems the US moneymen have a taste for Indian connectivity as General Atlantic becomes the fourth third-party firm to invest in the money-making machine which is Jio Platforms.

Full story here


Telecoms.com Daily Poll:

Can the sharing economy (ride-sharing, short-stay accommodation etc.) survive COVID-19?

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Trump needs fodder for the campaign trail, maybe Huawei fits the bill

A thriving economy and low levels of unemployment might have been the focal point of President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign, pre-pandemic, but fighting the ‘red under the bed’ might have to do now.

In 2016, Donald Trump won the Presidential election for numerous reasons, but one very important element was his ability to mobilise the vote of elements of society who wouldn’t have had any interest in politics otherwise. One reason was because of who Trump was and is, a celebrity more than a statesman, but perhaps a more critical element was the message.

Trump ignored political correctness, seemingly appealing to racism and xenophobia as the Make America Great Again slogan was born. He proposed the deportation of all illegal immigrants, the construction of a wall on the US-Mexico border and a temporary ban on foreign Muslims entering the US. The forgotten men and women of the US were the focal point of this campaign.

This campaign, focusing on a single message of foreign people are bad for patriotic US citizens, worked. If Trump is to repeat the success of his 2016 Presidential Election in November, there will have to be another message at the core of the campaign to rouse the masses and build a slogan on.

There has been a suspicion that the success of the economy and low levels of unemployment would have been this focal point. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy was on the rise. From Trump’s entry to the Oval office on 6 January 2017, to the final days before lockdown in February, the Dow Jones grew from 19,963 to 29,398, a 47% surge. Unemployment was down to 3.5%, slowly eroding through the three-year period.

The message could have been ‘look what four years of Trump has gotten you, wouldn’t you like four more?’. But then coronavirus hit, and the economy went down the toilet.

The Dow Jones will recover, as will unemployment, but the Trump campaign would be playing with fire by making this the central point of the campaign. Many believe Trump was too slow to act against the coronavirus after spending months claiming it was little more than the common flu. At its worst point, the Dow Jones fell to 18,591 while unemployment is currently as high as 14%, and likely to go higher.

Using the economy as a reason for re-elections is offering ammunition to the Democrat candidate, the opening round of a slug match where Trump can be undermined and embarrassed.

Without this weapon in his arsenal, Trump will have to find a new focal point to build a campaign around; China and Huawei could fit the bill.

Trump needs to redirect attention away from his failings as a leader during the pre-coronavirus weeks. People generally need an enemy when times are hard, and the invisible enemy of today will not do; you can’t get people angry about a virus, not in the way that the Trump campaign will want. If Trump can further vilify the Chinese, he can position himself as the hero, the man to champion US values, whatever they might be.

Huawei has been made the proxy of the Chinese Government in the eyes of the US. If the US is scared about the ‘red under the bed’, the idea of communism creeping into democratic societies secretly, the successful telecoms vendor can be made public enemy number one.

This is clearly not a new campaign of hate from the President, but it is one which had quietened off over the last few months. It is an on-going conflict point between the US and Chinese Governments, and fuel was thrown onto the embers last week.

In a new assault from the US Department of Commerce, further efforts were made to inhibit the ability of Huawei to source semiconductor components for smartphones and base stations. The US is perhaps hoping the globalised nature of the technology industry, which has allowed Huawei to thrive, can be weaponised against it as few (if any) companies could operate without a single trace of the US in its supply chain.

“We have survived and forged ahead despite all the odds,” Huawei Rotating Chairman Guo Ping said at a virtual conference this week. “The US insists on persistently attacking Huawei, but what will that achieve for the world?”

Conflict with the Chinese might not sound good for economic reasons, but for political ones, it is fantastic. Trump needs an enemy so he can be the champion of for the forgotten men and women of the US.

While it is clear there are a lot of US politicians buying into the anti-China campaign of hate, we asked Telecoms.com readers how they feel about the on-going aggression towards Huawei:

Telecoms.com Poll: Do you feel the US Government is justified in its action against Huawei?
Yes, it is effectively a pawn for the Chinese Government 43%
Yes, but Government links are not there 1%
Maybe, but show us the evidence of foul play first 12%
No, Trump shouldn’t punish a company just because it is Chinese 22%
No, international competition should be left to sort itself out 22%

Huawei might have enjoyed a brief breather over the last few months, but the signs are there to suggest there might be greater conflict on the horizon. Speaking at the Munich Security Conference this week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defence Mark Esper both drew battle lines.

“Let’s talk for a second about the other realm, cybersecurity,” Pompeo said during his speech. “Huawei and other state-back tech companies are trojan horses for Chinese intelligence.”

“Under President Xi’s rule, the Chinese Communist Party is heading even faster and further in the wrong direction,” said Esper. “More internal repression, more predatory economic practices, more heavy handedness, and most concerning for me, a more aggressive military posture.”

Further sanctions and more aggressive policies against Huawei specifically, as well as other Chinese companies in the international markets, could be on the horizon. Huawei executives have certainly expressed concern, but there are numerous other companies who should also be sitting uncomfortably.

The US Senate recently passed the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act (S.945) which could result in numerous companies who do not pass strict criteria being delisted from US stock exchanges. China is of course a target with this legislation.

“The SEC works hard to protect American investors from being swindled by American companies,” said Senator John Kennedy, one of the politicians to introduce the original bill.

“It’s asinine that we’re giving Chinese companies the opportunity to exploit hardworking Americans – people who put their retirement and college savings in our exchanges – because we don’t insist on examining their books. There are plenty of markets all over the world open to cheaters, but America can’t afford to be one of them.”

This legislation would not impact Huawei, it is a private company after all, but it is further evidence of increasing aggression towards China, and suggestions there could be rising tensions.

And while Huawei might be attracting the most attention from US Senators right now, there are certainly more which could fall into the crosshairs. Tencent owns TikTok which has already come under criticism, Alibaba is hoping to expand its cloud computing venture into international markets, while the likes of OPPO and Xiaomi are proving to be quite successful in gaining interest as challenger smartphone brands. These are all companies which would perhaps fall foul of US opinion.

The first Trump campaign rallies will give more of an indication of what will be the focus of his scorn and hatred over the coming months, and where the pent-up frustrations of US citizens could be directed. We suspect Huawei could be in for a rough few months as Trump further vilifies the Chinese Government and looks for an opponent to bureaucratically challenge during the campaign.

Taking down Huawei could be the feather the Trump campaign is looking for in its quest for re-election to the White House.


Telecoms.com Daily Poll:

Can the sharing economy (ride-sharing, short-stay accommodation etc.) survive COVID-19?

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Huawei says US is only hurting itself with sanctions

Speaking at this years’ virtual Huawei Analyst Summit, Rotating Chairman Guo Ping hit back at the US, suggesting it will only do more damage to itself by pursing its current course.

The keynote session from the newly rotated executive was one of defiance as a confident face was put on newly refined aggression from the US. The latest actions to inhibit Huawei’s supply chain will almost certainly have an impact, but it will continue to be a very prominent player in the telco industry.

“We have survived and forged ahead despite all the odds,” Ping said, while also boasting of the $120 billion in revenues achieved in 2019. “The US insists on persistently attacking Huawei, but what will that achieve for the world?”

Ping is referring to additional sanctions placed on Huawei at the end of last week. Announced by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, the US will prevent any company around the world from using US equipment, IP or software to work with Huawei. The aim is to choke the vendors supply of components and semiconductors, a critical element of smartphones and telecoms base stations.

To mitigate these actions, Ping has said R&D is on the up, to remove dependence on US suppliers, while the business has been stockpiling. But there will be a material impact on operations eventually.

This is a mitigation strategy, softening the blow but it is not a concrete solution. The US semiconductor industry can do want few others can, cultivating specialisms which have taken years to fine tune. This cannot be replicated by China overnight.

“Our business will be inevitably impacted,” said Ping. “But we are confident in finding a solution soon.”

Huawei has consistently stated such actions for the US would be a net loss for the industry, but what is the risk? Ping is pointing towards industry fragmentation.

This is of course a dirty word in the telecoms industry, but Huawei’s warnings should be taken with a pinch of salt. Ping warned of standard fragmentation, which is a long-term risk, but it is not one which is emerging now. The immediate risk is two, independent ecosystems, the creation of two distinct markets. Suppliers would hate this, and there is a chance competition (and therefore prices) would be impacted for telcos.

However, there is not really a risk of standard deviation is the short-term. Like the US, Huawei seems to be playing a bit fast and loose with rhetoric and muddied statements.

Ping also suggested this would be a severe consequence for the US telcos, a lesson which they should have already learned.

According to the executive, during the 2G era US telcos did not align on standards whereas European counterparts did. This offered scaled business opportunity to European suppliers, while the US vendors have to deal with fragmentation. Ultimately, the US has no remaining vendors because of this, while the likes of Ericsson and Nokia have thrived.

This is a mishmash of the truth, half-correct statements, half-informed assumptions and missing information.

Firstly, European telcos backed GSM standards. The fragmentation of standards was not US in-fighting, but a Europe versus North America situation, with Europe winning out. Secondly, yes, US vendors were swallowed up by bigger and more successful rivals, but so were European ones. The likes of Siemens and Alcatel have been acquired during the same period.

The reason there are so few suppliers is because previous generations of bureaucrats embraced market consolidation in a way which would have turned stomachs today.

Should the US continue to pursue Huawei in this manner, it will hurt everyone. It could lead to industry fragmentation, the separation of the East and West into two separate markets and much more isolationist policy making.This will hurt Huawei, it will hurt market competition, it will hurt the telcos, it will hurt US suppliers and it will hurt the industry on the whole.

There might be some inaccuracies here, but the overall message is very relevant; isolationist policy is not the friend of the telecommunications industry.

US Senate blurs democratic principles with OK for warrantless searches

In a move which is more suited to an authoritarian state, the US Senate has voted to extend the powers of intelligence authorities to search browser history without a court warrant.

Although the amended text still has to be agreed by the House of Representatives before heading to the Oval Office to be approved by President Donald Trump, this is a blow for US citizens who should correctly crave the right to privacy.

With only 59 votes being cast in support of a clause which would remove the ability of intelligence and enforcement agencies to snoop and spy without petitioning court judges for a warrant. Such abilities were introduced during the Patriot Act, following the 9/11 attacks in the US, to fight terrorism but it seems these politicians have forgotten the very principles which they are supposed to be protecting.

Ironically, at the same time it is supposedly fighting dictatorships around the world, the US’ attitude towards remarkably similar to the Chinese Governments.

The snooping powers were granted as part of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) which expired in March. Certain aspects from this Act and Section 215 of the US Patriot Act had been slated to be included in the USA Freedom Reauthorization Act. The USA Freedom Reauthorization Act was an effort to renew numerous elements, including the ability for intelligence agencies to spy with judicial authorisation.

Despite the PR campaign in play to validate the legislation (such as ludicrous Bill names and acronyms), and efforts to increase national security, privacy rights should still be respected. Fear should not be used as a weapon to erode democratic rights.

In most democratic nations, authorities have to seek permission from the courts to workaround privacy rules, but this is not the case here. Such rules contradict the claim that Governments are working for the people and can be held accountable by the people; the process of checks and balances has been compromised.

Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon has been championing the fight against government overreach, but it seems he fell one vote short. Had 60 votes been cast in favour of the clause, privacy of the US citizens would be protected, however, his cause fell one vote short. It is not fair to blame the failure of this pro-democracy movement on a single person, but it is interesting to see who didn’t turn up to cast a vote.

There were four individuals not to show up:

Absentee votes for Amendment Number: 1583
Senator State Party
Lamar Alexander Texas Republican
Ben Sasse Nebraska Republican
Patty Murray Washington Democrat
Bernie Sanders Vermont Independent

The Republican Senators were expected to vote against the Amendment (though many defied party orders) therefore the absence of Alexander and Sasse is not a material loss. Murray, the Democratic representative of Washington was not in the capital during the vote, and neither was the anti-establishment figure of Bernie Sanders.

It does appear both Murray and Sanders have been distracted in recent weeks, enough so that inaction has sent US legislation down a worrying path.


Telecoms.com Poll:

Do US authorities believe in the right to privacy?

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OpenRAN lobby group forms in US with 31 founding members

A new lobby group has emerged in the US, known as the Open RAN Policy Coalition, with a mission to guide policy making and encourage the promotion of the OpenRAN movement.

OpenRAN is of course gathering momentum across numerous different segments of the telecoms industry, though it is still in its embryonic days. It will be years before OpenRAN can materially challenge the status quo in the network infrastructure ecosystem, but assistive government policy and a generous regulatory environment could certainly accelerate this roadmap.

“As evidenced by the current global pandemic, vendor choice and flexibility in next-generation network deployments are necessary from a security and performance standpoint,” said Diane Rinaldo, Executive Director of the Open RAN Policy Coalition, though we aren’t too sure how the two are related.

“By promoting policies that standardize and develop open interfaces, we can ensure interoperability and security across different players and potentially lower the barrier to entry for new innovators.”

As a technology set, OpenRAN disaggregates radio, hardware and software components of telecoms networks. The objective is to offer the opportunity for telcos to build networks through a modular design, selecting each component on its own merit as opposed to proprietary technologies which bundle everything together and potentially create vendor lock-in situations.

Theoretically, networks should be cheaper to deploy as there would be greater diversity in the supplier ecosystem with specialists emerging in each segment.

The purpose of this group is as most would expect; to influence government policy for OpenRAN technologies and to encourage enforced diversity in telecoms supply chains. The group will push for policies which are more overtly in support of open and interoperable wireless technologies, funding R&D, lower barriers for 5G deployment and use government procurement to support vendor diversity.

Much of what is being said is hardly different from the corporate and meaningless jargon which litters the industry thanks to the influence of PR agencies who have little more than surface knowledge, but some of the policy objectives are quite interesting:

  • Signal government support for open and interoperable solutions: Perhaps this is suggesting the group will push governments to pick a camp and actively promote open technologies
  • Use government procurement to support vendor diversity: Should the lobby be successful, maybe there will be regulatory requirements to incorporate open technologies into any network which receives public funds
  • Avoid heavy-handed or prescriptive solutions: Could these mean an end to proprietary technologies through legislation?

For some, this might seem like a worrying development (Ericsson, Nokia or Huawei are hardly going to be thrilled) but the move has been welcomed by others in the industry.

“The launch of the Open RAN Policy Coalition shows the momentum building behind a more competitive, innovative, technology ecosystem,” said Attilio Zani, Executive Director of the Telecom Infra Project.

“At the heart of TIP’s work is the development and deployment of open, disaggregated, standards-based solutions – that are developed in conjunction with the operators. This, together with a supportive policy environment that allows new technology to flourish, will create greater opportunities for new entrants and a more diverse supply chain that will ultimately transform the industry to deliver the high-quality connectivity that the world needs – now and in the decades to come.”

The emergence of a formal lobby group is another step towards the breakthrough of Open RAN technologies, though momentum is already gathering very quickly in the US.

In protest against China emerging as the powerhouse of the 5G era, the US Government has been quick to jump on the Open RAN bandwagon. This preference serves two purposes for the US Government; firstly, it dilutes the influence Chinese infrastructure vendors have on the industry, and secondly, it stimulates the creation of US infrastructure companies. There aren’t many US names in the RAN game currently.

Earlier this year, a bill was introduced to Congress to provide up to $1 billion of federal funds to create Western-based alternatives to Chinese equipment providers Huawei and ZTE.

“Every month that the US does nothing, Huawei stands poised to become the cheapest, fastest, most ubiquitous global provider of 5G, while US and Western companies and workers lose out on market share and jobs,” said Senator Mark Warner, a particularly vocal critic of China.

“Widespread adoption of 5G technology has the potential to unleash sweeping effects for the future of internet-connected devices, individual data security, and national security. It is imperative that Congress address the complex security and competitiveness challenges that Chinese-directed telecommunication companies pose.”

OpenRAN technologies are not a market-ready alternative for traditional RAN equipment in most circumstances now, though there is swift progress being made. With the likes of Rakuten and Dish championing open networks, the status quo is beginning to shift, which will only be accelerated with political support. The formation of this lobby group to compound existing support in the US political aisles is a very interesting development.

Founding members of Open RAN Policy Coalition:

Airspan, Altiostar, AWS, AT&T, Cisco, CommScope, Dell, Dish Network, Facebook, Fujitsu, Google, IBM, Intel, Juniper Networks, Mavenir, Microsoft, NEC Corporation, NewEdge Signal Solutions, NTT, Oracle, Parallel Wireless, Qualcomm, Rakuten, Samsung Electronics America, Telefónica, US Ignite, Verizon, VMWare, Vodafone, World Wide Technology, and XCOM-Labs.

Nokia cautions Senators on plans to control technology decisions

One Senate subcommittee is searching for the silver bullet to the network infrastructure conundrum, though Nokia and other industry figures have warned against politicians making procurement decisions.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation has been hearing testimonies from various industry figures to examine the security and integrity challenges for telecommunications networks. The objective is to create regulation and legislation which benefits all, except the Chinese, and maintains security principles.

But in the pursuit of national security, some in the industry question whether the US Government is extending its influence too far into the business operations of the telcos. One concern which has been raised is if it would be a sensible decision to legislate what technologies the telcos have to use.

In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chairman Roger Wicker not only condemned Chinese vendors and the threat posed by China in the digital economy, but suggested Government should be playing a more active role in the development of standards and deployment of 5G. This is all well and good, until Government starts to make telco decisions for the telcos.

Below, we have taken a few extracts from the testimonies to demonstrate the concern from the telco industry.

Steve Berry, CEO, Competitive Carriers Association:

However, policymakers should not mandate which technologies are used in wireless networks, but instead should encourage research into new, secure technologies to enhance customer choice, innovation, and cost savings. For carriers with existing network infrastructure, additional research may facilitate increased ORAN deployment as well, and it is important that all network operators are positioned to manage additional steps for interoperability across multiple vendors.

Mike Murphy, CTO, Nokia Americas:

In short, there is limited maturity in both ORAN and Radio Access Network virtualization. For this reason, Nokia believes that putting these burdens on rural carriers, the least capable of being early adopters, would be unreasonable and should not be a pre-requisite for federal funding to replace their existing equipment, at this time.

James Lewis, Director of the Technology Policy Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies:

The move to an open, modular approach to telecom will change supply chain dynamics in ways that favour the US (and Japan). The supply chain for telecom will depend on semiconductors, chipsets, and specialized software (including “open source” software), all areas where the U.S. has a substantial lead over China – in some cases there are no Chinese competitors. Estimates of how long this telecom transformation will take range from three years to a decade.

In an effort to combat the attractiveness of Huawei and ZTE technology to small and rural telcos, the US Government has created a Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund of at least $750 million and a Multilateral Telecommunications Security Fund of at least $500 million. Through these two financial packages, it is hoped viable and commercially feasible alternatives can be created.

As part of securing funding, there is some suggestion in official documents that implementing Open RAN technologies could be a pre-requisite. Encouraging the industry one direction is fine, but forcing telcos, and in this case the likelihood is small telcos, to adopt a technology which is not yet market ready is a potentially worrying path to take. This position has of course not been written into legislation or regulation, but the opportunity to do so is there.

While it is far from uncommon for Governments to want to shepherd the development of an industry, the level of intervention which is currently feared should not be considered healthy. Bureaucrats work in bureaucracies because they are good at bureaucracy. Engineers work engineering projects because they are good at engineering. The status quo seems perfectly acceptable so why should it change.

Sometimes Government should just be Government, and it should let private industry be private industry.

More US Senators try to pressure UK over Huawei

While the impact on UK policy is questionable, that does not seem to be deterring US politicians from attempting to influence decision-making on Huawei’s 5G fortunes.

In a letter to Parliament, 20 Senators have urged UK politicians to reconsider their position on Huawei in the era of 5G connectivity. There is already dissent amongst the ranks in the House of Commons, though whether this trans-Atlantic communique has any catalyst impact remains to be seen.

“We write to express our significant concern with the Government of the United Kingdom’s recent decision to allow Huawei Technologies into its 5G network infrastructure,” the letter states.

“Given the significant security, privacy, and economic threats posed by Huawei, we strongly urge the United Kingdom to revisit its recent decision, take steps to mitigate the risks of Huawei, and work in close partnership with the U.S. on such efforts going forward.”

Led by Senators Ben Sasse and Chuck Schumer, the cross-aisle communication to influence decision making outside its borders is another attempt from the US to stamp its authority on the global landscape.

In the letter, the Senators have asked the UK to take a sterner stance against Huawei, but also enter into a partnership with the US to drive forward innovation and competition in this sparse segment of the telco industry. US politicians have already allocated funds to accelerate the development of OpenRAN technologies, touted as a challenge to the RAN status quo, to open-up the field of options.

Interestingly enough, this seems to be the carrot approach to influence, seeing as the stick wielded by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been as effective as a chocolate tea pot. Or has it?

The US might not have gained the outright ban which it has been chasing, but arguably lobby efforts have influenced UK policy. Would the UK introduced have restrictions on the telcos for ‘high-risk vendors’ if it was not at least partially listening to the trans-Atlantic drone? The UK Government does not want to place financial burdens on its telcos, but it has effectively done so with the Supply Chain Review. BT/EE, Vodafone and Three have all been forced into a rethink on how to deploy 5G, with Three facing significant disruptions.

With the conclusion of the Telecoms Supply Chain Review, UK telcos are free to work with ‘high-risk vendors’, a category which includes Huawei, though there are restrictions. The share of infrastructure equipment in a telcos inventory must not exceed 35% from a high-risk vendor, while no more than 35% of the total internet traffic for a telco can cross equipment from these suppliers. High-risk vendors are banned from contributing equipment to the network core.

The argument from the US is that the individual components of the network cannot be separated, therefore the risk cannot be mitigated. This same rationale has been put forward in objections from a group of UK politicians in opposition of the Telecoms Supply Chain Reivew.

Led by Sir Iain Duncan Smith, a few dozen MPs met to criticise the outcome of the Review. While some of the claims were mind-boggling and some of the statements quite inaccurate, the resounding message from this small group was an outright ban for Huawei and any other equipment vendors who would be deemed ‘high-risk’.

This is another area where the US lobby has seemingly gained traction, as none of the MPs present were particularly vocal during the Supply Chain Review. In fact, few politicians outside of the Department of Digital, Media, Culture and Sport paid much attention, occasionally posing questions when the topic was raised in the House of Commons. Only a small handful campaigned against Huawei, though now there are plenty who are seizing the opportunity to criticise the Review.

The conclusion of the Supply Chain Review was supposed to put this matter to bed, but it seems this is an argument which refuses to defuse. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has already suggested his lobby mission would continue, and perhaps this is evidence the US is having more of an influence on UK policy than previously believed.

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.