US-China battle over Huawei comes to head at tech show

The Huawei logo is displayed at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona on February 25, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 25 February 2019
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US-China battle over Huawei comes to head at tech show

  • Trump’s administration says the Chinese government could use Huawei equipment to snoop on the world’s Internet traffic

BARCELONA: A global battle between the US government and Chinese tech company Huawei over allegations that it is a cybersecurity risk overshadowed the opening Monday of the world’s biggest mobile industry trade fair.
Huawei has an outsize presence at MWC Barcelona, from its displays in three separate show halls down to its red sponsorship logo adorning visitor pass lanyards. The focus at this year’s meeting is new 5G networks due to roll out in the coming years. But the dispute over Huawei, the world’s biggest maker of networking gear, is casting a pall.
The United States government dispatched a big delegation to press its case with telecom executives and government officials that they should not use Huawei as a supplier over national security concerns. US President Donald Trump’s administration says the Chinese government could use Huawei equipment to snoop on the world’s Internet traffic — accusations Huawei has rejected, saying there has been no proof of a cybersecurity breach.
In a fresh salvo, 11 US senators on Monday called for the federal government to ban solar power inverters — advanced control systems — made by Huawei, saying they pose a national security threat to US energy infrastructure.
Huawei’s counteroffensive includes making its case directly to government officials, companies and journalists. It has unveiled a new folding 5G phone and its executives are speaking on keynote panels at the show. Formerly known as Mobile World Congress, the show is a key forum for lobbying and deal-making that’s expected to draw 100,000 visitors.
“The geopolitical tensions between the USA. and China will undoubtedly be a hot topic,” said Shaun Collins, CEO of research firm CCS Insight. “There is little doubt that operators around the world are concerned that draconian sanctions on their ability to use Huawei’s 5G infrastructure could have detrimental effects on their 5G roll-out plans.”
Behind closed doors, US officials have been suggesting that Ericsson of Sweden and Finland’s Nokia should be preferred suppliers, but telecom providers like Huawei for its cheap but good quality equipment. That helps lower the cost to customers of using new 5G networks, which promise lightning fast download speeds and less signal lag — advancements that will help develop self-driving cars, factory robots and remote surgery.
At Huawei’s sprawling main pavilion, lit in shimmering LED lights, the company showed off virtual reality racing games that use 5G to provide crisper graphics and quicker response times than 4G.
“Definitely compared to other big global vendors, they’re cost efficient,” said Sharif Shah Jamal Raz, a vice president at Bangladesh mobile operator Robi Axiata, as he and his colleagues inspected Huawei’s display of network base stations and modular antennas.
Trump tweeted last week that he wanted the US to catch up in the 5G race through competition, “not by blocking out currently more advanced technologies.” Though he didn’t mention China or Huawei, the comments could be seen as a more toned-down approach to the company, which has long been blocked in the US
Guo Ping, one of three Huawei executives who take turns as chairman, told reporters Sunday that he read Trump’s tweet as an admission that the US needs faster Internet networks and is lagging in this respect.
Guo stressed that his company “will never allow for backdoors in our equipment,” and it would never violate laws and regulations in countries where it operates.
US allies in Europe are still making their minds up on allowing Huawei gear in 5G networks and it’s not clear if Washington’s lobbying campaign is having an effect, with some viewing it as a calculation of technical risks rather than as part of a broader battle for tech supremacy between China and the US
The CEO of Ericsson, Borje Ekholm, said countries face “critical decisions” as they roll out 5G networks.
“As we talk to our customers, they are feeling the uncertainty and they are concerned,” Ekholm said at the MWC show.
A ban on Huawei could delay the rollout of 5G in Europe by two years, said Nick Read, CEO of Vodafone, one of the world’s biggest mobile operators.  
The “implication is suddenly you’ve got to do a massive swap of equipment. Hugely disruptive to national infrastructure, consumers (and) very, very expensive,” he said.
The head of Britain’s government surveillance agency, Jeremy Fleming, said Monday that China’s tech dominance posed a complex strategic challenge.
“We have to understand the opportunities and threats from China’s technological offer,” Fleming said in a speech in Singapore, according to a transcript. “We have to take a clear view on the implications of China’s technological acquisition strategy in the West.”
The British government is carrying out a review of the risks involved with telecom infrastructure that will help it decide on Huawei’s role in 5G networks. UK cybersecurity officials have said previously they think the risks involved with Huawei can be managed.
GSMA, an association that represents 750 mobile operators worldwide, is recommending a testing and certification regime for Europe to ensure confidence in network security.
Guo called for the industry and governments to develop “clear and unified” cybersecurity standards and regulations, and said decisions should be made by technical experts rather than politicians.


US scrutinizing certification of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft

China grounded all Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft on March 11, a day after the deadly crash of an Ethiopian Airways plane, which touched off a domino effect worldwide. (Reuters)
Updated 25 min 37 sec ago
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US scrutinizing certification of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft

  • The subpoena seeks documents and correspondence related to the plane
  • A criminal inquiry is ‘an entirely new twist,’ said Scott Hamilton, managing director of the Leeham Company

WASHINGTON: Boeing and US aviation regulators are coming under intense scrutiny over the certification of the 737 MAX aircraft after news that two recent crashes share similarities.
On March 11, just a day after the Ethiopia crash left 157 dead, a grand jury in Washington issued a subpoena to at least one person involved in the plane’s certification, according to a Wall Street Journal article citing people close to the matter.
The subpoena, which came from a prosecutor in the Justice Department’s criminal division, seeks documents and correspondence related to the plane, according to the report.
A criminal inquiry is “an entirely new twist,” said Scott Hamilton, managing director of the Leeham Company, who recalled a probe of a 1996 ValuJet crash as the only other aviation probe that was not a civil investigation.
“Unlike France, where criminal investigations into aviation accidents seems common, it is very, very rare in the US,” Hamilton added.
The Transportation Department’s inspector general also is probing the approval of the 737 MAX by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), The Wall Street Journal also reported. Neither department responded to requests for comment from AFP.
The probe is focusing on the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, implicated in the Lion Air crash, which authorities have said shared similarities with the latest accident.
The Ethiopian Airlines crash on March 10 came less than five months after a 737 MAX 8 operated by Lion Air crashed in Indonesia, killing 189.
While it may take months for definitive conclusions, Ethiopian officials said Sunday there were “clear similarities” between the two catastrophes based on information from the flight data recorder.
The two incidents have prompted air transport regulators to ground 737 MAX aircraft worldwide, a surprising setback for a line of jets that has been flying for less than two years and is Boeing’s top seller.
An investigation by The Seattle Times — in the city where Boeing has a large manufacturing presence — showed numerous problems with the MCAS, including that it would repeatedly override a pilot’s actions based on one faulty sensor. The paper asked for a response from Boeing and the FAA at least a week prior to the latest crash.
Shares of Boeing dropped another 1.8 percent on Monday to $372.28. The company has fallen about 12 percent since the Friday before the crash.
FAA officials had no comment Monday on the investigations but reaffirmed that the certification for the plane followed standard procedure.
Boeing said it followed the rules in bringing the plane to the market.
“The 737 MAX was certified in accordance with the identical FAA requirements and processes that have governed certification of all previous new airplanes and derivatives,” Boeing said.
“The FAA considered the final configuration and operating parameters of MCAS during MAX certification and concluded that it met all certification and regulatory requirements.”
Later Monday, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg sought to reassure clients and passengers of the firm’s commitment to safety in a video message.
“Safety is at the core of who we are at Boeing, and ensuring safe and reliable travel on our airplanes is an enduring value and our absolute commitment to everyone,” Muilenburg said.
“Soon we’ll release a software update and related pilot training for the 737 MAX that will address concerns discovered in the aftermath of the Lion Air Flight 610 accident.”
The 737 MAX was certified as a variant of the 737 Next Generation, the plane it replaced, despite major differences in the engine and the addition of the MCAS, according to documents available on the FAA’s website.
The motors on the new plane are heavier than in the 737 NG, posing more of a risk of stalling, so the MCAS was designed to protect against the possibility. But the Lion Air accident showed the system can erroneously correct for a stall when the plane is taking off, based on one bad sensor, and continuously fight the pilot for control.
US pilots complained to Boeing about the issues following the Lion Air crash.
Because of budget constraints, the FAA delegated aspects of the approval process to Boeing itself, according to sources.
Under a program, known as the Organization Designation Authorization (ODA), employees of Boeing are accredited by the FAA to assist in approving the aircraft — including design, production, flight tests, maintenance and other systems — as well as signing off on the training procedures of pilots on new planes.
The FAA last week said it already had ordered Boeing to develop a fix for problems with the MCAS system. But the agency was not able to describe any changes in the plane implemented by Boeing after the Lion Air accident.
According to one aviation expert who requested anonymity, Boeing had readied some modifications for the system by the end of 2018 but the regulatory approval and subsequent installation of the changes were delayed by the five-week US government shutdown.
Legislators Peter DeFazio, chairman of the House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Ted Cruz, who chairs a Senate transportation subcommittee, have each called for hearings to look into the 737 MAX’s certification.