Under security review, Huawei Canada unveils plan to bring high-speed internet to rural communities

The Huawei logo is seen in a store in Dongdaqiao, Chaoyang District, Beijing on July 1, 2019.

Facing ongoing scrutiny and a national security review, Huawei Technologies Co. announced Monday it will help bring high-speed internet to 70 rural communities in Canada by 2025.

Huawei said in a press release that it will partner with Ice Wireless and Iristel to help provide 20 communities in Arctic Canada and another 50 in northern Quebec with high-speed wireless services. The company said it received federal approval for the project under the Security Review Program, which is designed to protect critical infrastructure.

“Amid the anticipation about 5G wireless technology, let's not forget that many remote areas still lack reliable 3G or 4G LTE service,” Alykhan Velshi, Huawei’s vice president of corporate affairs, said in a news release.

“This initiative will help Canada meet its United Nations commitment to deliver high-speed internet to all Canadians by 2030. With faster and more reliable access to the internet, the people of Canada’s North can be better connected than ever before to the rest of the country – and the rest of the world.”

The announcement – which also includes the rollout of three short firms profiling northern community residents that have benefitted from the use of high-speed internet – is the latest in an ongoing effort by Huawei to improve its reputation in Canada.

Relations between Canada and China have been strained since Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Vancouver in December at the behest of the United States. Two Canadians – Michael Spavor and former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig – have been detained in China since December, a move widely seen as a response by the Chinese government to Meng’s arrest.

“Obviously we’re concerned, like all Canadians are concerned, about their well-being,” Velshi told reporters in Ottawa on Monday.

“This is a time of real tension between Canada and China, and it can only be solved by governments.”

The arrest and subsequent actions have seen Canadian perceptions of China deteriorate, according to a recent poll conducted by Research Co. According to the online poll, which surveyed 1,000 adults between July 6 and July 9, 67 per cent of Canadians think the federal government should not work to establish closer ties to China. Another 68 per cent said Ottawa should not allow Huawei to participate in the development of Canada’s 5G networks – up from 57 per cent when a similar poll was taken in February.

Huawei is currently facing a federal government national security review that will decide whether the Chinese telecommunications giant will be permitted to participate in the development of Canada’s 5G networks. The U.S. has banned use of Huawei technology citing national security concerns. In an exclusive interview with Yahoo Finance, Huawei’s chief executive Ren Zhengfei said the company does not pose a security threat to the U.S. and that “Trump has nothing on us.”

Velshi said that the security review should be based on Huawei’s record in Canada and its technology, not politics.

“If you go to our office in Kanata, or you go to our office in Markham, the perception that it’s Dr. Evil’s lair and we’re toiling away at the latest world-ending scheme is false. It’s a bunch of engineers solving engineering problems,” Velshi said.

“I think ultimately trust is built over time and in the case of Huawei Canada, we’ve operated without complaints, without issues since 2008.”

In Canada, both Telus and Bell have used Huawei equipment in portions of their 3G and 4G wireless networks and both have partnered with the company for the deployment of their respective 5G networks.

Huawei, a historically closed-off company with notoriously reclusive executives, has shifted its tone in recent months in a bid to win trust abroad.

With files from the Canadian Press

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