Chinese equipment makers ZTE and Huawei are battling growing concerns about their smartphones being used by U.S. consumers and their infrastructure gear being deployed in U.S. operator networks.
The latest onslaught of bad news for the Chinese firms comes from the U.S. intelligence community. Earlier this week CNBC reported that six top U.S. intelligence chiefs — including the heads of the CIA, FBI, and the NSA — told the Senate Intelligence Committee that they would advise Americans to not use the products and services of Huawei and ZTE.
Plus, earlier this month two senators — Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) — introduced legislation that would prevent the U.S. government from buying or using telecommunications equipment from Huawei or ZTE because of concern that the Chinese companies would use their equipment to spy on U.S. officials.
This follows a similar effort from Congressman Mike Conaway (R-Texas) who introduced a bill in January that specifically named ZTE and Huawei as companies the U.S. should not do business with. That bill, H.R. 4747, “The Defending U.S. Government Communications Act” prohibits the government from purchasing or leasing telecommunications equipment and/or services from the two firms.
ZTE responded to the claims by telling Xinhua, a Chinese news service, that the company has always adhered to laws and remains a trusted partner of U.S. suppliers and customers. “ZTE is proud of the innovation and security of our products in the U.S. market,” a ZTE spokesperson told Xinhua.
Meanwhile, Huawei responded to SDxCentral’s inquiry regarding H.R. 4747 by saying the company has no plans to do business with the U.S. government: “Our products and solutions are used by major carriers, Fortune 500 companies, and hundreds of millions of consumers in more than 170 countries around the world. We have earned the trust of our partners across the global value chain. Huawei has no expectations of doing business with the U.S. government, so such provisions would have no effect on us.”
ZTE and Huawei network equipment is not currently banned in the U.S. but it is also not widely used by many operators. However, their wireless handsets are available to consumers. For example, ZTE and Huawei phones are typically sold with prepaid services such as those offered by MetroPCS, TracFone, and AT&T’s Cricket brand. They can also be purchased “unlocked” through retailers like Best Buy.
Huawei had hoped to announce a big smartphone deal with AT&T at the CES 2018 conference earlier this year. However, AT&T reportedly backed out of the deal at the last minute.
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