Some of the world’s largest tech companies have told their employees to stop talking about technology and technical standards with their counterparts at Huawei Technologies Co Ltd in response to the recent blacklist by the Chinese tech firm in the US. According to people familiar with the matter.
Chipmakers Intel Corp and Qualcomm Inc., mobile research firm InterDigital Wireless Inc and South Korean operator LG Uplus have restricted employees from informal conversations with Huawei, the world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker, the sources said.
Such discussions are a routine part of international meetings where engineers meet to set technical standards for communications technologies, including the next generation of mobile networks known as 5G.
The US Department of Commerce has not prohibited contact between companies and Huawei. On May 16, the agency blacklisted Huawei, prohibiting it from doing business with US companies without government approval, and a few days later it authorized US companies to interact with Huawei in standards bodies until August, as required. necessary for the development of 5G. standards ”. The Commerce Department reiterated that position on Friday in response to a question from Reuters.
However, at least a handful of top tech companies in the US and abroad are asking their employees to limit some forms of direct interaction, the people said, while trying to avoid any potential problems with the US government. Intel and Qualcomm said they have provided compliance instructions to employees, but declined to comment on them.
An InterDigital spokesperson said it provided guidance to engineers to ensure the company is compliant with US regulations.
An LG Uplus official said the company is “voluntarily refraining from interacting with Huawei workers, apart from meeting over network equipment installation or maintenance problems.”
Huawei did not provide comment.
According to various industry experts, the new restrictions could delay the launch of 5G, which is expected to power everything from high-speed video streams to self-driving cars.
At a 5G standards meeting last week in Newport Beach, California, participants voiced their private alarm to Reuters that the long-standing cooperation between engineers that is needed for phones and networks to connect globally could fall victim to what one participant described as a “technological war”. ”Between the United States and China.
A representative of a European company that has instituted rules against interacting with Huawei described the people involved in 5G development as “shaking”. “This could push everyone to their own corners, and we need cooperation to get to 5G. It should be a global market,” the person said.
To be sure, several workers at small telcos said they had not been told to avoid conversations with Huawei at standards meetings, and many vendors continue to support existing agreements with Huawei. It’s unclear how much more communications with Huawei have been reduced in the tech industry, if at all.
“There have been a lot of misunderstandings from what I see and hear from clients and colleagues as to what the (Department of Commerce) restrictions really mean,” said Doug Jacobson, a Washington-based export control attorney.
He said the companies prohibiting their employees from communicating with Huawei were “excessive, because the restrictions do not prevent communication, only technology transfer.”
Huawei, whose equipment the United States has alleged could be used by China to spy, has become a central figure in the trade war between the world’s two largest economies. Huawei has repeatedly denied that it is controlled by the Chinese government, military or intelligence services.
Companies in China, the US, and Europe have previously been divided on standards for Wi-Fi, cellular networks and other technologies, and tariffs between Beijing and Washington have raised fears of another fork.
Huawei is a major player in several global organizations that establish technical specifications. As one of the world’s largest manufacturers of devices, such as smartphones, and vital parts of networks such as routers and switches, Huawei will have to be at the standard-setting table to ensure a seamless customer experience when networking 5G become frequent, engineers and experts. said.
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Engineers and systems architects representing their employers at meetings of the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), a global consortium of industry associations that aims to establish 5G specifications by March 2020, often carry the formal general discussions to smaller, less documented sessions as they try to find an agreement with rivals.
But at the 3GPP meeting last week in California, one of the group’s three chairmen, Balazs Bertenyi of Nokia, told attendees that most so-called “offline” conversations than usual would be documented by the body. of standards with notes and other publicly available records. .
It was the “practical implication” of the new rules from the US Department of Commerce, despite the exemption for 5G talks, he said.
Sources say companies want to limit informal exchanges, in which their engineers feel more comfortable discussing proprietary technology with rivals to convince them why their research or innovations are more robust.
An independent standards body, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), imposed restrictions on the ability of Huawei’s engineers to participate in peer reviews of their publications, drawing criticism from Chinese industry and others. countries.
The organization, which declined to comment beyond the generic statements on its website, then backtracked days after saying it had received the go-ahead from the US Department of Commerce regarding the peer review issue. He did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
“Huawei is not just a company. They, by many accounts, are the leaders in 5G technology. Excluding them is very difficult to solve, so it can interrupt the whole project,” said Jorge Contreras, professor of law at the University of Utah and member of the IEEE.
“If the idea is to create non-Chinese 5G, I’m not sure it’s possible. Even if it was, would it be that good?