Huawei is continuing its push to help bring high-speed Internet to rural Canada at the same time as it faces fraud charges in the United States, controversy over its next-generation 5G technology and the arrest of its chief financial officer in Vancouver late last year.
The head of a B.C. company that has launched a trial project with Huawei to provide faster, more reliable Internet service to the tiny town of Lac La Hache, says the Chinese tech giant has proven itself a reliable supplier and an important player in small communities across the country.
“We don’t have an alternative source for the equipment that we use to deliver these services to rural British Columbians − there is no other product supplier offering these fixed wireless systems into the market today," Bob Allen, founder and chief executive officer of ABC Communications, said Friday.
And ABC, which has been using Huawei equipment for about five years, worries that current controversies swirling around the Chinese company will affect ABC’s small-town business.
Huawei was willing to do business with a small firm such as ABC when other, larger vendors were not, Mr. Allen said.
This week, the United States announced 23 charges against Huawei and its CFO, Meng Wanzhou. She is facing extradition to the United States on allegations of banking fraud in relation to sanctions against Iran. Ms. Meng, who is the daughter of Huawei’s founder, Ren Zhengfei, was arrested on Dec. 1 at the behest of the Americans.
Canadians Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat, and entrepreneur Michael Spavor were detained in China for allegedly endangering national security, in apparent retaliation for the arrest of Ms. Meng. The arrests in both countries have seriously damaged relations between Ottawa and Beijing.
The internet pilot project in rural B.C. also comes as Huawei is embroiled in controversy involving concerns among Western countries, spearheaded by the United States, that using its 5G technology could pose security risks.
"We’re very concerned that these efforts by the U.S. [concerning the fraud charges and 5G technology] will actually harm services to rural British Columbians,” Mr. Allen said.
“That would really be a bad outcome … these people deserve world-class Internet services. And Huawei is the global leader in this product.”
ABC, a privately held telecommunications company, on Friday announced a trial using Huawei technology to deliver Internet speeds of up to 100 megabits per second for customers in Lac La Hache.
The technology, what Huawei calls Massive MIMO Rural Broadband System, is designed to allow a single antenna to operate at the same efficiency and effectiveness as multiple antennae. It is a 4G system − not the 5G systems currently under development around the world.
The trial will help determine whether the technology boosts speed and capacity enough to justify investing in new equipment, Mr. Allen said.
After ABC began working with Huawei about five years ago, the B.C. company was visited by representatives from the Communications Security Establishment of Canada (CSEC), he said.
“They explained to us if we were going to use Huawei equipment, we needed to join [a] security review program. We couldn’t believe they flew all the way from Ottawa to explain to us the seriousness of our act.”
Under that program, network equipment is subject to third-party security reviews.
Canada is currently considering whether to ban Huawei from providing equipment for 5G cellular networks in Canada.
The United States, Australia and New Zealand, all key Canadian allies, have already banned the use of Huawei equipment in 5G networks.
In a statement released Friday, Huawei Technologies CEO Eric Li said Huawei Canada was pleased to partner with ABC Communications to test advanced technology “that can deliver high-speed Internet to rural communities.”
Mr. Li was not available for an interview Friday.
For Lac La Hache, the trial means potential economic, social and educational benefits, said Al Richmond, the elected representative for Lac La Hache with the Cariboo Regional District
“I had a call from a business person already this morning who said, ‘I can move my business back home’ − that’s what it means,” Mr. Richmond said.
“And it’s beyond Lac La Hache − rural B.C. is desperately underserved when it comes to access to broadband. And that affects economic-development opportunities and things that maybe people living in urban areas take for granted,” he added.
Lac La Hache, about 300 kilometres northeast of Vancouver in B.C.'s Cariboo Regional District, has a population of about 860 people.