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Huawei: Should Australians Be Concerned?

Huawei has found itself in the middle of a global brawl with companies cutting ties and countries banning sales, so what in the world is going on and how will we be affected?

Huawei is a huge privately-owned Chinese technology firm that's been around since 1987.

It's the world's largest supplier of telecommunications network equipment and the second-biggest smartphone maker but has now expanded to include chip development, artificial intelligence and cloud computing.

Last year, the company's revenue hit US$92 billion, with much of the business coming from overseas markets, particularly Europe, Asia and Africa.

So What's The Issue?

The U.S. has come down on Huawei like a tonne of bricks, with lawmakers and intelligence officials claiming that the telco giant could be exploited by the Chinese government and that its equipment could be used as a backdoor for spies.

Especially as the States builds its next-generation 5G network, in which Huawei is leading the race.

There's no evidence of any spying or any Chinese government infiltration but intelligence agencies saw the risk as far too great despite Huawei insisting it is not a security threat.

The Mate 20 smartphone manufactured by Huawei. Photo: Getty Images.

Despite that, the in late 2018 the U.S. has introduced legislation which bars federal agencies from buying the company's products.

At the same time, an executive order has been issued which gives the federal government the power to block U.S. companies from buying or selling foreign-made telco equipment deemed a national security risk -- a list Huawei was added to several days prior.

"This decision threatens to harm our customers in over 170 countries, including more than three billion consumers who use Huawei products and services around the world," the company's chief legal officer, Song Liuping said at a news briefing this Wednesday in a bid to have the ban overturned.

The tech giant was dealt another big blow last week when U.S. based tech giants Microsoft removed the company's laptops from its online store.

At the same time, Google blocked Huawei's future access to Android updates, however users of the company's current phones won't be cut off from security updates.

Also this month, UK-based chip designer ARM cut ties, in the interest of "complying with all of the latest regulations set forth by the U.S. government."

But most countries, even close U.S. allies, haven't made any substantial moves against the company.

Google has cut ties with Huawei. Photo: Getty
What About Australia?

Huawei has been involved in providing Australia with 3G and then 4G services since 2004, building a workforce of about 700.

Projects included building digital voice and data communication systems for rail services in WA and NSW, focusing things like handheld radios, radio masts and base stations, not the core network, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

The company also built a private 4G network for mining company Santos.

But by August 2018, the government had banned Huawei from providing telcos with equipment for their high-speed 5G networks, on security grounds.

As for Australia's major telco's, Telstra said there are no known impacts on customers, Huawei's P30 Pro smartphone is still available through their online store.

An Optus spokesperson has told 10daily the implications are not yet known.

"The situation remains fluid as the U.S. Government further defines its order, Google provides clarity on its actions and Huawei decides on next steps," they said.

While Vodafone issued a similar statement to 10daily, confirming that they are "working with Huawei and Google to understand the implications, if any, to Vodafone customers, however, there is no immediate impact to in-market products."

The first 5G Optus tower is seen in the suburb of Dickson in Canberra January 31 Photo: MICK TSIKAS/AAP
Should We Be Concerned?

According to Dr Mark Gregory, associate professor at RMIT University, the simple answer is "not really."

“Other than the Huawei ban for the 5G rollout there shouldn’t be any effect in regard to consumer goods or enterprise goods which are the main markets that Huawei is in,” he told 10daily.

He explained that the concern isn't with the Chinese based company, but with technology as a whole.

“We should always be concerned about security because there are problems today not just with state actors but also with criminal organisations and hackers.

“You’ve got to consider security simply as a matter of course because there are so many threats.”

He's been pushing for a telecommunications security assurance capability in Australia for 12 years.

He wants the government and the industry to work together to look at telco equipment and systems before they're deployed to ensure the software and hardware will be safe to use.

"You also need to monitor the equipment through its lifetime because there are changes to the hardware, there are firmware or software upgrades, our phones and our laptops get upgraded all the time.

He said Australians should be assured that equipment, in its lifetime, hasn’t been tampered with and that the upgrades are still safe to use.

Photo: Mark Schiefelbein/AP

Similar capabilities, in whole or part, is already in place in the UK, Canada, India and New Zeland, according to Gregory.

READ MORE: Google Cuts Some Dealings With Controversial Chinese Tech Giant Huawei

READ MORE: Is The Hooha Over Huawei Something To Worry About?

So, although right now Australian's with Huawei phones have nothing to worry about, the company is certainly being watched closely by business and government alike.

Contact the author khill@networkten.com.au