U.S. telcos asked to rip out Huawei and replace it with a quandary
The FCC is asking Congress for $2 billion to finance the removal of all Huawei equipment from some rural US wireless networks.
But that’s the easy part.
The much, much harder question – one that has not yet been answered by the commission – is how to replace Huawei’s equipment with equipment from “trusted” suppliers. What is a “trusted” supplier, after all? And who gets to decide that?
Those are the issues that are under debate at the FCC right now.
“A key component of the effort to secure America’s telecommunications networks will be the commission’s creation of a well-vetted list of suggested replacement communications equipment and services,” wrote vendor COMSovereign to the FCC. (The company has flatly stated its intent to become America’s Huawei.) “Prior to issuance of such a list, the commission should clearly define a set of qualification criteria for both vendors and specific equipment to be added to the list, and establish a method for demonstrating compliance with those criteria.”
Creating a list
And how exactly should the FCC go about assembling that list of trusted suppliers? Blue Danube Systems – another equipment vendor – has some ideas.
“The commission should seek to use the membership lists of industry consortiums such as the ORAN Alliance, The Open RAN Policy Coalition, the National Spectrum Consortium, and 3GPP (3G Partnership Project) to develop a list of replacement equipment providers initially,” the company wrote in its own FCC filing. “We also suggest using organizations such as the IWPC (International Wireless Industry Consortium) that is a US based Wireless Industry Group and has an extensive global database of providers to the wireless industry. The IWPC includes all equipment and services providers and operators. We believe that the IWPC could help screen the list of companies and add any additional missing companies from other sources.”
But wait, worries Metaswitch Networks (which is being acquired by Microsoft), won’t all this vetting create extra costs for vendors? After all, the company argued, a detailed list of trusted vendors and equipment “introduces an overhead with no clear benefit.”
And Metaswitch also suggests that the FCC avoid creating a detailed list of approved pieces of trusted equipment because “any delay introduced by, for example, additional vetting from the commission, will directly impact the timeline to replace the equipment.”
Yup, you read that right: Some of the companies in this debate are suggesting that the FCC avoid a lengthy vetting process for a program designed to remove equipment deemed a threat to national security. Because apparently it’s more important to quickly replace Huawei’s equipment – and for vendors like Metaswitch to get at that $2 billion – rather than to thoroughly check the replacement equipment for threats.
Lists are too hard
As a result of concerns like this, some are urging the FCC to avoid actually creating a list of trusted vendors and instead just create categories of equipment that ought to be trusted. After all, if a vendor isn’t banned outright – like Huawei and (sometimes) ZTE – then it must be OK, right?
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