No threat, only good partnership – Huawei in eyes of US telecom carrier

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A salesman works at a Huawei booth in Manila, the Philippines. Xinhua

STAHLSTOWN (Xinhua) – The US government’s latest move to blacklist Huawei has forced the Chinese telecom giant’s business partners in the United States to brace for mounting uncertainty.

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Among them is LHTC Broadband, a telecom company focused on the rural area of the US state of Pennsylvania. It offers telephone, TV and Internet services to 7,000 rural locations, of which 1,600 are served with Huawei gear.

What has perplexed LHTC CEO James Kail is that he has never seen an issue of security threat in Huawei equipment – not only in the past few months in which such accusations have been heated up by the US government, but also throughout the last five years of partnership with Huawei.

US President Donald Trump on May 15 declared a national emergency over what he called threats to US technologies. The US Department of Commerce on the same day put Huawei and its affiliates on a blacklist, meaning the sale and transfer of US technologies to Huawei must be approved by the federal government.

“We haven’t had any issue with the equipment itself, and on top of that, the pricing was very competitive,” Mr Kail told Xinhua, recalling that it was a prudent business decision for LHTC to choose Huawei as a supplier five years ago.

As of the end of 2018, 90 percent of LHTC’s fiber-deploying project using Huawei solutions has completed, and the remaining 10 percent is expected to finish by 2020.

“It’s been five years and we still haven’t seen any proof (of security threats),” Mr Kail said.

That said, the ban could deal a severe blow to LHTC, which has only 65 employees. To take out all the Huawei equipment, Mr Kail said, “will be obviously a significant hardship for a small company like us.”

According to Mr Kail’s estimates, it will take LHTC about one year to completely replace the existing Huawei equipment if the company focuses solely on that. The cost is expected to total $400,000 to 500,000, he added.

Apart from the replacement cost, what also concerns Mr Kail is a potential sudden suspension of Huawei’s technical support once the restriction kicks in.

The Commerce Department last week granted a 90-day window for US mobile phone companies and broadband providers tied to Huawei “to make other arrangements.”

“If we weren’t able to have any technical support for upgrades because Huawei was shut off, that would be another problem,” Mr Kail said. He added that LHTC is closely monitoring the situation because of its investment in Huawei and “the potential significant impact on our company.”

Noting that it has been a good partnership over the last five years that LHTC had with Huawei, Mr Kail said Huawei has been “very responsive” when problems occur.

In South Canaan town, a five-hour drive to the northeast of Stahlstown, about 1,000 residents are using LHTC services supported solely by Huawei equipment.

Standing next to the two sets of Huawei equipment at the office, Bonnie Bond, network supervisor at LHTC’s local branch, told Xinhua that each set of the equipment has the capacity to serve 1,024 customers, and that each port with which a cable is connected serves 32 customers at the home end simultaneously.

“So as we switched one of those ports, those 32 customers would be out of service until we were able to change their equipment in their house,” the technician said.

In addition to South Canaan, LHTC has three more such Huawei sets in the nearby community of Waymart Borough, according to Ms Bond.

Ms Bond said she is “very concerned” that once Huawei is banned, her customers will not be able to watch TV or surf the Internet anymore.

“Hopefully they would bear with us and stick through, but there is competition out there as well,” she added.

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