Huawei Australia CEO: We don't collect any data that could be sent to China

Speaking about concerns that Huawei could send customer data back to the Chinese government if it is permitted to take part in Australian 5G rollouts, local CEO George Huang has told ZDNet that Huawei does not own, manage, or operate any data on mobile networks.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Huawei Australia CEO George Huang and CTO Dr David Soldani

(Image: Corinne Reichert/ZDNet)

Huawei Australia CEO George Huang has responded to calls for the technology giant to be barred from taking part in the nation's 5G rollouts due to concerns over sharing data with the Chinese government, telling ZDNet that the company handles no personal data.

Speaking on the sidelines of Huawei's Customer Solution Innovation Centre (CSIC) launch in Sydney on Thursday, Huang said he has not heard anything about a 5G ban "from any formal channel".

"Huawei doesn't own, doesn't manage, doesn't operate any data," Huang told ZDNet.

"Huawei is just a network equipment vendor to the operators. Operators, they manage, they operate the network. The application of Huawei is to support our customers -- that means operators -- to build the system to manage those things.

"Huawei is just a vendor of the pipeline."

Huawei Australia CTO Dr David Soldani added that Huawei plays on the edges of Australia's mobile networks -- including the 4G-advanced networks of Optus and Vodafone -- "with no possibility of storing or handling of any kind of user information".

"So when they talk to us about 'you accessed the data', that's incorrect, because what we provide here are just points that receive radio signal converting to electrical signals, and these electrical signals are then passed to the core network," Soldani told ZDNet.

"There is no data whatsoever storage; we're just making a downpipe."

Huang told ZDNet that Huawei is continuing to have "a lot" of discussions with the Australian government.

"5G is an ecosystem that needs working together from all of these stakeholders, including vendors, customers, regulators, so we have been working with the government very openly, transparently," he explained.

The CEO added that the company has been seeking legal advice on the Chinese law that could potentially require Huawei to hand over information, saying "we didn't find anything we need to do to hand over any data".

However, Huang said he understands the concerns inherent in any new technology, but said it must be discussed openly and with reference to the standards.

"When 5G comes, because it's a new thing, people don't understand it fully, they have some concerns about that, I think that's understandable but we need to work together to address all of those concerns," he said.

"When we talk about 5G, we should come to the technology itself. We can't discuss it based on the speculations, based on imagination, because wireless technology is a highly standardised technology -- GSMA is handling that, 3GPP is defining that -- most of the architecture itself, the protocols, the interface, all are defined by 3GPP.

"It's very clear that core network, access network, devices, how they work together, how they manage the data are all defined by this 3GPP standards body. So when we discuss about the data, when we discuss about cybersecurity, we should discuss based on the standard itself, so that's the reason why we are working with the government, with the customers, we all discuss details about the standard itself."

The comments from Huang and Soldani followed Huawei coming under fire, with Australian chair John Lord last week arguing that the Chinese tech giant is the most audited, inspected, reviewed, and critiqued IT company in the world and has never had a national security issue.

"After every kind of inspection, audit, review, nothing sinister has been found. No wrongdoing, no criminal action or intent, no 'back door', no planted vulnerability, and no 'magical kill switch'," Lord said.

"In fact, in our three decades as a company no evidence of any sort has been provided to justify these concerns by anyone -- ever."

Excluding Huawei from 5G deployments will put Australia behind other nations, Lord added.

"We are the clear leader in 5G development," he said.

"Australia cannot sit back and think it can isolate itself from the technology rise of Asia. To do so would impact on us economically and remove ourselves from world-leading technology, while our trading competitors take full advantage of better technology, cheaper costs for that technology, and benefit from the productivity gains that flow.

"5G is a natural evolution from 4G, just like 4G was for 3G. Of course there will be great improvement and changes, but the network fundamentals do not change at all. So the question is, if Huawei can deliver 4G to Australia already why can't it do 5G?"

Huawei has also sent a letter to Australian members of Parliament, claiming recent comments made about national security concerns are "ill-informed and not based on facts". This followed Huawei's warnings that being banned from providing 5G equipment to Australia's telcos would threaten the nation's ability to stay "ahead of the game" in its mobile networks due to restricting competition.

Australia's Shadow Minister for Defence Richard Marles had last month approved a possible Huawei ban from 5G networks, citing the 2012 ban imposed on the company by the then-Labor government denying Huawei from taking part in the National Broadband Network (NBN).

Speaking with ZDNet during April, Huawei Australia's CTO had described the Chinese networking giant's plans for pushing 5G in Australia, with his ultimate goals being to form a collaborative ecosystem with partners and customers and spearhead discussions with the federal government.

Huang was appointed as Huawei Australia CEO in January amid a move to push 5G and Internet of Things (IoT) projects locally. Soldani was then appointed as CTO in March, with the company similarly labelling him a "5G expert".

Huawei is also part of the Australian government's 5G working group.

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