As telecom equipment maker Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. faces questions about the cybersecurity risks of its 5G technology, one of its main rivals is pitching itself to Canadian buyers as a security-focused alternative.
Finland-based Nokia Corp. is vying to supply equipment to Canadian wireless carriers for their build out of fifth-generation cellular networks, which will involve a significant deployment of new radios and antennas to support faster service with much lower lag time.
For older generation networks, Nokia has won relatively little of the radio equipment business from Canada’s biggest carriers, but it’s hoping to increase its share of the market with 5G and hosted a daylong event in Toronto on Thursday to demonstrate its products to government and industry players.
Rogers Communications Inc. has long worked with Sweden’s Ericsson and has already said that partnership will continue for 5G.
For their 3G and LTE (4G) radio networks, BCE Inc. and Telus Corp., Canada’s second and third-largest carriers both worked extensively with Huawei. But with the Chinese company’s future in Canada uncertain as the federal government conducts a cybersecurity review of 5G technology, neither BCE nor Telus has decided on a 5G vendor.
During a roundtable interview with reporters on Thursday, Nokia executives said they want to expand their Canadian business and see some key advantages over their competitors.
“One of our key differentiators is security. We’re investing heavily in security,” said Mary O’Neill, vice-president of security at Nokia Software, who is based at the company’s Ottawa office, adding, “We do it at every layer, right from the beginning ... and you cannot ship a product – it will not get released from Nokia – unless it passes all of those security checks.”
Ric Herald, president of Nokia Canada, said he doesn’t “spend any time thinking about the Huawei situation, because to me it’s not something I can influence or decide,” adding that it will be up to the government to determine whether Huawei can continue to sell 5G radio equipment as it has done for earlier network generations.
Huawei has built a business in Canada over the past decade, and last year it made US$270-million selling network equipment here. Industry players have said the Chinese giant, which is now the biggest telecom equipment maker in the world, gained a foothold in part by offering lower prices than its European competitors.
Mr. Herald said Huawei is not “coming in and dropping the floor out," when it comes to pricing. “A couple years ago? Sure. But I don’t see that today.”
He said Nokia also has the advantage of being able to sell a whole range of products, including software and network “core” equipment. The Canadian government has not allowed carriers to install Chinese gear in the more sensitive parts of their networks.
At its own innovation showcase and media day earlier this month, Huawei Canada’s chief security officer Olivera Zatezalo insisted that the company’s equipment is safe.
“Over the last 10 years in Canada ... we didn’t have any security issues whatsoever. Not once,” she said.
“Cybersecurity is very important to us. Every year we spend 5 per cent of our research and development spending on cybersecurity and going forward we’re doing more,” Ms. Zatezalo added, referencing the company’s pledge to spend US$2-billion on a five-year effort to improve its software code to address security concerns raised in a report from a British testing centre last year.
Over the past week, Huawei has been hit hard by sweeping trade restrictions imposed by the U.S. government, which introduced new rules barring American companies from selling to the Chinese company. The U.S. Commerce department temporarily delayed the effect of those restrictions for 90 days, but reports suggest numerous U.S. technology suppliers, including important computer chip makers such as Intel and Qualcomm, have indicated they will no longer work with Huawei.
Alphabet Inc.'s Google has also said it will restrict Huawei’s access to its proprietary apps and services and if the ban proceeds, key features such as the Google Play app store and security functions will not work on new Huawei smartphones.
Nokia has already won some Canadian business with Shaw Communications Inc.'s Freedom Mobile, which operates in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta.
In January, the federal government announced an investment of $40-million in Nokia Canada to support Canadian 5G research and development. The Ontario government contributed a further $12-million, Nokia executives said Thursday.