SoftBank lands on U.S. secure 5G telco list

Japan’s SoftBank Corp. has joined a list of global telecoms that the U.S. considers secure under the State Department’s “Clean Network” initiative, with the operator having excluded China’s Huawei as a 5G supplier last year.

SoftBank in a statement said it was “pleased to be recognized as a 5G Clean Telecommunications company” by the U.S.

In June, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement naming service providers deemed as “Clean Telcos” because they don’t use 5G network gear from Huawei. The U.S. flagged Huawei, a leading network equipment and handset supplier, as posing national security risks. The U.S. says Huawei is a tool of the Chinese government that could be used for state-backed activities like surveillance. Huawei has repeatedly denied claims.  

In Thursday’s statement, SoftBank said it “believes telecommunication networks are an important part of social infrastructure, and that they will play a crucial role in transforming people’s lives and industry in the 5G era. Accordingly, SoftBank Corp. is committed to providing services that are both convenient and secure to all of its customers.”

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SoftBank stated that it “fully supports the Clean Network initiative” in the U.S. and will work to build out 5G networks “that use secure equipment from trusted network vendors.”

In August, the U.S. expanded its network initiative targeting Chinese firms to also include mobile app stores and apps, cloud-based systems, carriers, and cable. In a press statement Secretary Pompeo said the approach is aimed at protecting privacy and companies’ sensitive information “from aggressive intrusions by malign actors, such as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP),” with efforts to “protect America’s critical telecommunications and technology infrastructure.”

SoftBank’s addition to the telco list comes after the company already in May 2019 shunned Huawei for its 5G build, opting instead for Ericsson and Nokia. Huawei had been a 4G vendor for SoftBank and participated in 5G trials.

Other Japanese operators not using Huawei include NTT, KDDI, and Rakuten.   

For more than a year the U.S. has campaigned globally for countries and network operators to ban vendors it says pose security risks, namely Huawei. It’s also imposed trade restrictions, which were tightened this week to further clamp down on Huawei’s access to U.S. technology.

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Japan is one of more than 30 countries and territories that the U.S. said committed to only use trusted vendors for 5G. The U.K. is also on that list, having changed course over the summer with a decision to ban Huawei after initially authorizing a limited role in operators’ 5G radio access network (RAN). Recent reports pegged India as the next country expected to take action to keep Huawei and ZTE gear out of the country’s 5G networks.  

India’s Jio is already named by the State Department as a telecom that’s rejected Huawei. Canada’s three major operators have picked Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung for 5G. Huawei also has been passed over by Orange in France, Telstra in Australia, and SK Telecom and KT in South Korea, among others.