TIME

THE BATTLE FOR 5G

Inside the controversial company helping China control the future of the Internet

Dennis Honrud’s family has been farming wheat in eastern Montana for three generations. Unashamedly old school, Honrud sows only half his 6,000 acres, leaving the rest fallow to avoid soil depletion. “There’s not many of us left,” he laments. Like many workers in the global economy, the 68-year-old needs to stay connected, in his case to monitor crop prices and weather updates from his green John Deere tractor. So he asked a telecom provider to put a cell tower in his backyard.

The Honrud property in Glasgow, Mont., is so remote that it wasn’t well covered by any of the big four American carriers—Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint. So Honrud turned to the local provider, Nemont Wireless, to install the tower. Today, cell service is pretty good. When the occasional car accident happens on the stretch of highway next to the Honrud farm, highway patrol officers no longer need to drive a mile to get a signal. Now they can place a call from the scene. If that hasn’t saved a life yet, “at some point in time it will,” Honrud says.

But there’s a problem. Like around a quarter of the smaller “tier 3” carriers catering to rural areas like Glasgow, Nemont uses equipment provided by Huawei, the world’s biggest telecommunications-equipment company. The Chinese firm generated a mind-boggling $107 billion in revenue last year, selling equipment to customers in 170 countries and regions around the world. It also may be the most controversial company in the world.

Huawei has long been accused of rampant theft of intellectual property (IP), selling U.S. tech to enemy states like Iran and North Korea and being a Trojan horse for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Its place as the world’s No. 2 smartphone maker—behind Samsung and ahead of Apple—was achieved despite Huawei handsets being shunned by the big four U.S. carriers out of security concerns. FBI Director Christopher Wray has accused Huawei of “pervasive criminal behavior” designed to “undermine our country’s place in the world.”

On May 15, the Trump Administration placed Huawei on the Commerce Department’s Entity List, meaning American companies require a special license to do business with it. Google began blocking Huawei from parts of its Android operating system in order to comply. U.S. chipmakers, which together sold some $10 billion worth of components to Huawei last year alone, were obliged to follow suit.

The Entity List is not only devastating for Huawei but also for any nation that uses its telecom equipment,

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