U.S. Commerce Dept NO-OP rule allows U.S. companies to work with Huawei on 5G & other standards

by Karen Freifeld (Reuters) with Opinion by Alan J Weissberger (does not reflect any IEEE position)

The U.S. Department of Commerce on Tuesday posted a new rule that allows U.S. companies to work with China’s Huawei to develop standards for 5G and other cutting-edge technologies, despite restrictions on doing business with the world’s top telecommunications equipment maker.


Personal Opinion: 

This new rule accomplishes NOTHING and may even backfire according to some analysts. First and foremost, the U.S. government has no authority to dictate whether or not U.S. companies are permitted to attend and contribute to international standards committee meetings that are attended by non-U.S. companies deemed to be a threat.  It is up to each individual standards body to grant or deny membership to a company. Once that company becomes a member of the committee then NO GOVERNMENT ENTITY can block other companies from working with it on various standards.

Today (June 16th), a joint ITU-R WP5D contribution from Nokia Corporation, Telefon AB – LM Ericsson, Qualcomm, Inc., Samsung Electronics contribution asks WP5D to delete China and Korea IMT 2020 RIT submissions as they are technically identical to 3GPP’s IMT 2020 RIT submission.

Did the Korea government prevent Samsung (#1 company in Korea by far) from co-authoring that contribution, even though it is NOT in the best interest of Korea to have their national 5G (IMT 2020 RIT) standard withdrawn/deleted?  Of course not, because they don’t have the authority to do that!

Separately, the U.S. government is dogmatic in destroying Huawei to end that company’s dominance of global telecom equipment, especially 5G where the U.S. wants to encourage (now non-existent) 5G equipment companies.  The only U.S. 5G technology company we know of is Qualcomm.  The others just do software for so called “Open RAN” (which can’t really be open if two companies have to spec out the radio and radio interface to the digital baseband unit).

“The United States will not cede leadership in global innovation,” said Wilbur Ross, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, in his statement about the decision. “The Department is committed to protecting U.S. national security and foreign policy interests by encouraging US industry to fully engage and advocate for U.S. technologies to become international standards.”

Light Reading also take a negative view of the U.S. announcement.  Iain Morris wrote in a blog post today (Bold font added for emphasis):

If the US is to remain a part of the global standards community, as it inevitably decided it would this week, the only way it can become less dependent on Chinese knowhow is to make the Chinese firms less influential in the standards groups. That could mean imitating China’s strategy of trying to shape the international standard and essentially crowd out the other players.

How successful that strategy has been is up for debate. Huawei undoubtedly plays a more prominent role in the 5G standard than it ever did in 3G or 4G. Yet critics believe the company’s influence has been overstated in the media. Its vast array of patents, they say, includes relatively few that are genuinely “standard-essential,” despite the findings of several studies that tout Huawei’s significance.

Richard Windsor, an analyst with Radio Free Mobile, thinks US semiconductor giant Qualcomm has “a much stronger position in 5G” than one high-profile study gives it credit for. The 3GPP, for its part, remains tight-lipped on this entire subject. Revelations could be awkward.

Whatever transpires in the world of standards, no one should seriously expect a rapprochement between the US and Huawei after all that has already happened. Meng Wanzhou, the Chinese firm’s chief financial officer (and daughter of its founder), remains under house arrest in Canada, awaiting possible extradition to the US to face charges of fraud. Countries including the UK are still under US pressure to ban Huawei from their 5G networks. And trade sanctions have not been eased.

Quite the opposite, in fact. A recent tightening-up of Commerce Department rules will stop Huawei from buying any components made with US technology. Previous restrictions covered only US components made on US soil, inflicting limited damage on Huawei and disappointing its US antagonists. Unable to procure equipment from important suppliers like Taiwan’s TSMC, Huawei could be finished within a year as a result of the latest measures, according to some analysts. If that happens, any concern about US firms working alongside their Chinese counterparts in standards groups would be largely academic.

U.S. posts rule allowing U.S. companies to work with Huawei on standards

People walk past a Huawei shop, amid an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Beijing, China, May 18, 2020. Photo Credit: REUTERS/Thomas Peter                  …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Reuters reported on Monday that the rule had been approved and sent to the Federal Register, the official U.S. publication for rules. It was posted for public inspection on the Federal Register’s website on Tuesday and is scheduled to be formally published on Thursday.

The rule amends the Huawei “entity listing,” which restricts sales of U.S. goods and technology to the company. The United States placed Huawei on the list in May 2019, citing national security concerns.

The amendment authorizes the release of certain technology to Huawei and its affiliates if it contributes “to the revision or development of a ‘standard’ in a ‘standards organization.’”

Industry and government officials have said the entity listing backfired in standards settings. With U.S. companies uncertain what technology they could share, some U.S. engineers did not engage, and Huawei gained a stronger voice, they said.

Huawei and 114 of its foreign affiliates on the Entity List “continue to participate in many important international standards organizations in which U.S. companies also participate,” the new rule says.

“As international standards serve as the building blocks for product development and help ensure functionality, interoperability and safety of the products, it is important to U.S. technological leadership that U.S. companies be able to work in these bodies in order to ensure that U.S. standards proposals are fully considered.”

Naomi Wilson of the Information Technology Industry Council, which represents tech companies, said the rule was a “long-awaited step to clarify that U.S. companies can participate in international standards bodies – even where certain listed entities are present.”

Boston lawyer Andy Updegrove, who has represented over 150 standards organizations, said he found one catch: Not all standards consortiums may meet the requirements in the rule.

To do so, he said, some may change the way they work, but other foreign ones may not. “Overall, it’s a big improvement, but it’s not going to help U.S. companies in every case,” Updegrove said.

Huawei said in a statement it wants to continue standards discussions with counterparts, including those in the United States, and that “inclusiveness and productive dialogue will better promote” their formulation and encourage development.




ADDENDUM:  The Dispatcher- Sept 2020:

After the U.S. Commerce Department last year put HUAWEI on a list of companies that it considered unsuitable for U.S companies and government—and the companies and governments of all its allies—to do business with, engineers in most U.S. technology companies stopped engaging with HUAWEI to develop standards. Since the standards train was going to go down the tracks with or without the U.S. on board, and Europe’s, Japan’s and the rest of the world’s companies were continuing to occupy their seats, the absence of U.S. engineers put the U.S. at a severe disadvantage, said QUALCOMM, Intel, AMAZON and many others. 10 HUAWEI had a louder voice at the table with the U.S. sitting outside.

“Confusion stemming from the May 2019 entity list had inadvertently sidelined U.S. companies from some technical standards conversations, putting them at a strategic disadvantage,” said a representative for the Information Technology Industry Council, a Washington, DC-based trade association that represents the companies making the complaint. After a year, the Commerce Department drafted a new rule which states that if HUAWEI is sitting at any standards table (not just 5G), the U.S. needs to be there. On June 15th, the rule was approved. In confirming the rule’s passing,

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said:

“The United States will not cede leadership in global innovation. The department is committed to protecting U.S. national security and foreign policy interests by encouraging U.S. industry to fully engage and advocate for U.S. technologies to become international standards.”