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Huawei issue opens rift between US and European mobile carriers

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Huawei says it doesn't provide back doors for the Chinese government, pointing out that no one has provided evidence to support such concerns.

Washington

A GROUP representing top US mobile service providers disagreed with European counterparts over alleged security threats from Chinese equipment maker Huawei Technologies ahead of a conference that will highlight a US-Europe divide on the issue.

A Feb 14 release from GSMA, a London-based wireless industry group, urged European lawmakers not to ban Huawei as a supplier. But CTIA, a Washington-based group, responded on Tuesday with its own statement saying the GSMA "does not represent the views of all wireless operators or all regions".

The European carriers offered to cooperate with their governments in devising steps to ward off vulnerabilities. CTIA, with members that include US market leaders AT&T Inc and Verizon Communications, has urged the US to go slow in crafting equipment security rules.

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A GSMA spokesman on Tuesday said its "initial statement was clearly focused on activity in Europe and does not reflect the views of all GSMA members globally".

The US government is increasing the size of its usual delegation to the GSMA's annual industry conference, MWC Barcelona, next week. Huawei is also boosting its presence at the event, setting the scene for a showdown as both sides try to win over the CEOs of the world's top carriers.

The US and China clashed on Saturday at a security conference in Munich over whether Huawei's equipment should be banned from future 5G networks. US Vice-President Mike Pence said the company is required to turn over data to Beijing's security officials. Chinese politburo member Yang Jiechi said China's law doesn't require companies to collect intelligence. Mr Yang urged Europeans to consider whether the US had their interests at heart, or its own.

Shenzhen-based Huawei has denied wrongdoing and long maintained it doesn't provide back doors for the Chinese government, pointing out that no one has provided evidence to support such concerns.

The CTIA said: "We caution against a patchwork approach of different rules for different regions which would result in less competition in supply chains." GSMA on Feb 14 said "mobile operators are ready to work with European agencies in charge of promoting certification and security requirements." It recommended that "governments and mobile operators work together to agree" on a testing and certification regime for Europe.

The FCC should "work with other expert agencies to conduct a thorough quantitative and qualitative analysis of the costs and benefits of various approaches before taking action" on network security, CTIA said last year in a filing at the agency. The FCC is considering whether to bar spending of US subsidies on companies deemed a security risk.

The Feb 14 statement from GSMA didn't mention Huawei by name. Restricting access to a network equipment maker would handicap Europe's progress in developing artificial intelligence, the "Internet of things" and so-called big data, the group of more than 750 companies said. The technology promises to deliver data to phones 10 times faster than 4G and to connect people, cars, factories and household objects. BLOOMBERG