Huawei partners with local carriers to bring 4G to remote parts of Canada

Huawei Canada is partnering with local carriers ICE Wireless and Iristel to help deliver 4G service to 70 rural and remote areas in Canada by 2025.

Huawei said the plans include 20 communities in the country’s Arctic region and 50 in Northeastern Quebec. Additional plans are in the works to bring high-speed wireless service to unconnected parts of Newfoundland and Labrador.

"Huawei Canada has been operating in Canada for more than a decade and employs more than 1,100 people across our great country. Amid the anticipation about 5G wireless technology, let's not forget that many remote areas still lack reliable 3G or 4G LTE service,” said Huawei Canada's Vice President of Corporate Affairs Alykhan Velshi at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, according to a release. “This initiative will help Canada meet its United Nations commitment to deliver high-speed internet to all Canadians by 2030.”

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Alykhan noted that Huawei has helped operators solve challenges like ensuring their Radio Access Network (RAN) will function in extremely cold temperatures.

“In the far north, RAN equipment has to operate in frigid Arctic winters, can get covered in thick heavy ice, and sometimes has to function without access to a power grid,"  Alykahn added.

Most Canadians have access to high-speed internet, but some sparsely populated areas of the country remain unconnected, according to Huawei. 

"We strongly believe that everyone should be connected to 4G LTE, no matter where they live in Canada – even in areas where high-speed service may not be economically viable," said Eric Li, president of Huawei Canada, in a statement.

Countries around the world, including the U.K., are considering whether to allow or ban Huawei equipment from 5G networks amid national security concerns, raised most vocally by the United States.

And while Huawei has mostly been shunned from major U.S. operators' networks, there are smaller and rural telecom providers that already use the vendor’s gear. Some, such as James Valley Telecommunications, previously cited quality and significant cost-effectiveness of Huawei equipment compared to other suppliers.

The FCC has also considered prohibiting the use of Universal Service Fund (USF) money to purchase equipment or services from companies that pose a national security threat, including Huawei.  

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This proposal raised concerns about its potential impact on rural providers. In June 2018, United TelCom, a rural wireless provider in Kansas, told the FCC that prohibiting Huawei equipment could force the provider to shutter its wireless service. In December, the Rural Wireless Association (RWA) said it believed that at least 25% of its carrier members use equipment from Chinese suppliers like Huawei and ZTE.

FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks has been vocal about the need to identify existing Huawei gear currently used in 4G wireless networks. He’s also advocated for the government to step in and help carriers remove and replace that equipment. In June Starks held a workshop with stakeholders to discuss different approaches, including how to fund such an undertaking.

The complex job is likely to be costly. Congress introduced legislation that would provide up to $700 million to help remove Huawei equipment, but a report last month from CoBank pegged the price tag at above $1 billion.

Huawei appears to have had good relationships with its U.S. customers that provide service in more rural or less densely populated areas of the country. Last year, roughly half a dozen U.S. rural wireless providers came out in support of Huawei.

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While it’s unclear if that level of support continues, service providers still await more government clarity on the scope of equipment that will or won’t be allowed.

According to the CoBank report, in recent years rural operators had “little choice” other than to purchase core network technologies from the Chinese equipment vendor.

“For some rural operators that sought bids, competing vendors would not respond to proposal requests for network equipment, or the prices quoted were 30% to 40% higher than what Huawei was offering,” CoBank said.