Canada Bans Huawei and ZTE from 4G and 5G Networks

The Canadian government announced last week that operators in the country will have to stop purchasing 4G and 5G network equipment from Chinese network vendors Huawei and ZTE by September. Telcos will then have until June 28, 2024 to remove all Huawei or ZTE equipment from 5G networks, and until December 31, 2027 to strip them from 4G networks.

The news is not a surprise given the worsening relations between Western democracies and the nuclear powers of the East. However, it has taken the Canadian government significantly longer to align with its allies than originally expected. Canada’s ruling Liberal Party promised to make a decision about Huawei in advance of the 2019 federal election, after then US President Donald Trump directly asked Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to ban Huawei from Canada’s 5G networks. It is possible that Canada’s government consciously delayed until China returned two Canadian citizens, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who were imprisoned in apparent retaliation for the arrest in Canada of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou on a US extradition warrant. Kovrig and Spavor were released in September 2021, just hours after the US dropped their extradition request for Meng.

The official government statement gave the following national security reason for banning the use of Huawei and ZTE from 4G and 5G networks.

The Government of Canada has serious concerns about suppliers such as Huawei and ZTE who could be compelled to comply with extrajudicial directions from foreign governments in ways that would conflict with Canadian laws or would be detrimental to Canadian interests.

They also highlighted the impact of other technology embargoes.

Like our allies, Canada believes that evolving international supply chain dynamics have further implications due to growing restrictions on access to certain components. Shifts from well-known inputs to others have implications for Canada’s ability to conduct assurance testing. This changing supply chain environment toward other components will make it increasingly difficult for Canada to maintain a high level of assurance testing for certain network equipment from a number of potential suppliers.

Canada is also following the lead of other countries by planning to introduce legislation about network security.

These measures will be implemented as part of a new telecommunications security framework. We intend to introduce amendments to the Telecommunications Act to ensure that promoting the security and protection of our telecommunications system is an overriding objective of Canada’s telecommunications policy. Amendments will include mechanisms to prohibit the use of equipment and services from designated suppliers where necessary to protect Canada’s telecommunications system.

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Public Safety, highlighted how the Canadian government had bravely stood behind its leading allies.

The opposition Conservatives rebuked the government for taking so long to reach a conclusion. A statement referred to the cost to telcos and how this may be passed on to customers or taxpayers.

By last year, all of Canada’s Five Eyes allies had either banned or severely restricted the use of Huawei in their 5G infrastructure due to security concerns and the protection of economic interests. Conservatives repeatedly called on the Trudeau government to do the right thing and listen to security experts and the calls from our allies – but they refused.

In the years of delay, Canadian telecommunications companies purchased hundreds of millions of dollars of Huawei equipment which will now need to be removed from their networks at enormous expense. Either the Liberal government is going to be asked for compensation from these companies or costs will be passed on to consumers.

A statement from the Chinese Embassy in Canada decried “political manipulation” and accused Canada of “acting in collusion with the United States to suppress Chinese enterprises”. They warned that the decision would “certainly harm Canada’s own interests” and argued that Huawei and ZTE had already demonstrated their compliance with security requirements.

Facts have proved that Huawei and ZTE have been maintaining a very good record on network security.

This statement on behalf of the Chinese government contrasted with the response given by local Huawei mouthpiece Alykhan Velshi, Vice President of Corporate Affairs for Huawei in Canada. Velshi repeated the same line as often heard from Huawei executives in other countries when he was interviewed by CBC News, effectively arguing that Huawei must be treated as innocent until proven guilty.

…it’s for the government to provide evidence that Huawei is a national security threat, as they claim. They have not done so…

This sounds like bunk to me. National security is one of the few areas where governments should be able to make decisions without needing to justify them to anyone else. It grows increasingly tedious to hear well-paid executives living in Western countries implying they are fighting to uphold the rule of law when even the most trivial analysis of the seven-decade rule by the Chinese Communist Party reveals they have little respect for laws that interfere with the party’s interests, such as the laws that allowed Hong Kong democracy activists to protest at the dismantling of their rights. Huawei’s sophistry becomes especially galling when it is expressed in Canada, a country which saw two of its citizens taken hostage by the Chinese government so their freedom could be bartered for that of a Huawei executive.

Huawei also has an atrocious track record for breaking laws across many countries, as often captured in the articles published by Commsrisk, though Huawei executives always claim that any illegality is due to poor choices by rogue employees who were not acting on the instruction of the company. When specific security problems are brought to Huawei’s attention, like those found by the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre in the UK, Huawei responds with promises the issues will be fixed in future, but they then fail to make any progress. So all we get from Huawei and China is continual vacillation about the truth: Huawei’s technology is proven to be secure and the company can show it always abides by the law; foreign governments have failed to prove otherwise; anyone who broke the law was not really working on Huawei’s behalf; any security flaws identified will be fixed in future; all the criticism was political anyway.

Canadians should be glad their government is finally taking necessary steps to protect the security of networks. It is just a shame their leaders were so slow and timid about making a decision which was always inevitable.

You will find the Canadian government’s policy statement on Huawei and ZTE here.

Eric Priezkalns
Eric Priezkalns
Eric is the Editor of Commsrisk. Look here for more about the history of Commsrisk and the role played by Eric.

Eric is also the Chief Executive of the Risk & Assurance Group (RAG), a global association of professionals working in risk management and business assurance for communications providers.

Previously Eric was Director of Risk Management for Qatar Telecom and he has worked with Cable & Wireless, T‑Mobile, Sky, Worldcom and other telcos. He was lead author of Revenue Assurance: Expert Opinions for Communications Providers, published by CRC Press. He is a qualified chartered accountant, with degrees in information systems, and in mathematics and philosophy.