OTTAWA—Telus Corp. is “throwing down the gauntlet” by using Huawei to build its 5G network as the federal government considers banning the Chinese telecom, according to a technology researcher.
The telecom giant announced Thursday it would use Huawei products to help build its next-generation wireless network, but only in “nonsensitive” parts of its networks.
That raises the stakes for the federal Liberals as they face continued pressure from the United States to ban the Chinese telecom from Canada’s next-generation wireless networks.
“I definitely think that it is throwing down the gauntlet to the government of Canada, saying we’ve invested in this, we want to go forward,” said Christopher Parsons, a researcher at the Munk School’s Citizen Lab, in an interview with the Star.
“And I would hazard a guess that should the Liberal government or any government that follows it decide to ban Huawei, that you will very quickly see Telus (and other telecommunications companies) go to the government and say … we made an investment in good faith, and you just pulled the rug out from under us.”
Parsons said that argument would “lay the foundation” for telecoms to demand taxpayer money go to replacing their existing Huawei-supported infrastructure — which would be a massive cost for the federal government.
The eventual introduction of 5G to Canada promises faster download speeds, but also revolutions in digital services — the same way that 4G enabled services like Uber or Netflix.
The Trump administration has been pressuring allied governments to ban Huawei products from their future 5G networks, arguing the company’s cosiness with the Chinese government means their products can’t be trusted.
The administration took it a step further this week, with National Security Adviser Robert C. O’Brien stating publicly the U.S. has evidence that Huawei has had the capability to covertly access data through its products for a decade. Huawei has consistently denied the American allegations.
The new accusations come as Canada’s national security agencies continue to study the country’s 5G future, including whether Ottawa should ban Huawei from its networks.
While that review has been under external pressure from the Trump administration, Telus’ decision to use Huawei products in its 5G infrastructure highlights domestic concerns for the Trudeau government.
Huawei products are already widely used by Canadian telecoms for the “non-core” parts of their network, like the equipment used in cellphone towers. On Thursday Telus CFO Doug French hinted at that, noting that it’s “natural” for the company to build 5G from its existing “4G supplier ecosystem.”
“This approach is entirely compliant with current Canadian regulatory and cybersecurity requirements, which have been in place and approved by successive federal governments for more than a decade,” French said, while promising to “continue to collaborate” with the federal government.
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In a 2018 filing, Telus suggested banning Huawei from 5G networks “without compensation or other accommodations” from the federal government would have a “material” impact on the cost of Telus’ 5G networks, and potentially delay the service’s rollout.
The Liberal government has not set a deadline for its decision on Huawei or the broader questions around 5G cyber security.