SaskTel ‘confident’ in Huawei deals despite NDP concerns

By Chris Vandenbreekel/CJME News Staff
January 15, 2019 - 4:28pm

Saskatchewan NDP leader Ryan Meili is calling on the provincial government to review SaskTel’s relationship with Huawei, as concern grows worldwide about the security implications of the Chinese telecom.

In a formal letter to Premier Scott Moe, provided to reporters at a media scrum Tuesday, Meili expresses concerns about the “threat posed” by Huawei to SaskTel’s security.

Meili is requesting an immediate moratorium on new contracts between Huawei and SaskTel, and is asking Moe and the government to look into the costs of severing all ties with the international company — including the removal of “any technology that poses risk.”

“Lets get all the details, make absolutely sure that there’s no risk,” he said, noting he’d like any information gathered to be made public.

SaskTel has worked with Huawei since 2010, contracting for physical infrastructure services in Saskatchewan’s 3G network. They’re now looking to continue the relationship in installing the province’s 5G services.

Meili noted three of the other “Five Eye” allied countries — Australia, New Zealand and the U.S. — have banned Huawei from involvement in 5G network building due to security concerns.

The federal government is also reviewing Huawei’s involvement in Canada.

The NDP leader said given those concerns, and the ongoing dispute between Canada and China over the arrest of Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver, the province needs to know how much it would cost to pull out of any involvement with the telecom.

“No matter how much it costs, if we’re actually at risk of espionage or theft of intellectual property, or other ways that people’s data are being accessed inappropriately, that’s extremely expensive and extremely risky,” Meili said. “We may not even have a choice.”

In response to Meili’s concerns, SaskTel Chief Technology Officer Daryl Godfrey said the Crown corporation is “not in favour of ending its positive relationship with Huawei,” and stated they wouldn’t be putting a moratorium on new deals.

He said the equipment provided by Huawei is tested on a regular basis by a third party investigator, and to date no malicious code or “gaps” have been found.

“We’ve been working with Huawei for many years now, and we’ve been very involved with the security and the testing of their equipment and software,” Godfrey said.

“We’ve been comfortable since day one that measures that have been taken have mitigated any risk.” Godfrey said in terms of hardware, only Huawei radio equipment such as antennas are used at cell towers as a connection between cell phones and the tower.

But their products aren’t used any deeper into SaskTel’s network.

“Any closer into the core of the network we do not use their technology,” he said.

Godfrey also warned that severing ties with Huawei would cost “many millions” of dollars, and would set Saskatchewan back in implementing 5G technology by three years.

However, he said SaskTel would abide by any federal government rulings regarding Huawei.

— With files from 980 CJME’s Evan Radford.

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