Why does the U.S. government mistrust Huawei and not ZTE or Lenovo?

Huawei's big plans to make a breakthrough into the U.S. smartphone market have been crushed. There's no gentle way to say that, so I'll just say it.

As CES 2018 was drawing to a close, AT&T and Verizon, which were both all but confirmed to be "official" carriers of the Mate 10 Pro, both announced that they wouldn't be selling any Huawei phones after pressure from the U.S. government because Huawei phones being used in the states would pose a security risk.

The government really doesn't want us using Huawei products.

This pressure became official soon after as a bill was sent to Congress that would ban any government business from being done on a network that used Huawei (or ZTE) networking equipment. In the same week, we learned that government officials were urging AT&T to stop doing business with Huawei altogether and to stop working on a 5G network with the Chinese company. Once again, national security concerns were stated as the reason behind the request.

We're not done. In February 2018, right as the Mate 10 Pro was set to go up for sale in North America, heads of U.S. intelligence agencies came forward and urged Americans to not buy Huawei phones. FBI Director Christopher Wray explains the reasoning:

We're deeply concerned about the risks of allowing any company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments that don't share our values to gain positions of power inside our telecommunications networks.

Most recently we found out the Best Buy, One of Huawei's biggest U.S. retail outlets for unlocked phones, was going to stop selling all Huawei products. This includes phones, laptops, tablets, smartwatches, and routers.

But why just Huawei? If there are concerns with electronics made in China when it comes to security and privacy, why not OnePlus or Lenovo or simply all Chinese companies?

I took the time to individualize and link each time Huawei faced a roadblock when it comes to U.S. sales so it could be more obvious that the government really doesn't want us to buy Huawei products. Another thing about the paragraphs above is that they also cover the times intelligence or other government officials warned against other Chinese electronic products, with a lone mention of ZTE commerical networking equipment. It appears that Huawei is being singled out, so there has to be a reason.

Checking that processors and chipsets aren't ready to spy on us is difficult.

There happens to be several reasons, and they aren't about the end produts themselves as much as the technology inside them, much of which is done in-house at Huawei. Simply put, there are fears that Huawei is controlled by the government of China and U.S. officials don't trust the chipsets and low-level firmware that Huawei makes themselves. This is why they don't want Americans buying or using them.

Making your own processors then arranging them in a mobile chipset is a rarity. Apple does this, as does Samsung (which also makes components to sell to other manufacturers). But any other instances are few and far between back to the time when Motorola flip phones ruled the market. It also takes more than just silicon and copper as there is a lot of machine-level software and firmware involved so processors can talk to things like modems or graphics adapters. You'll find a Huawei-made chip inside all the company's high-end phones as well as the network routers and switches and transfer equipment Huawei builds for companies like AT&T to run their cellular network. In plain language, Huawei makes the parts inside the phones and other gear an it's almost impossible to independently review that they are doing what Huawei claims. The U.S. government is afraid that these components can be instructed to eavesdrop on our digital communications and send it all back to the Chinese government.

I'm not going to attempt to assess these claims; that's for three-letter government agencies to do and they say we shouldn't be using Huawei gear. It is their job to look for, then look at, potential ways the country could be put at risk. My personal opinion is that this is a wise choice for networking equipment (especially when used for government communications) but looks a bit hollow when it comes to the company's phones because of how updates are routed through the internet to our Android products. You should evaluate these claims yourself and not allow me or anyone else to make the decision for you, though.

Huawei is working the 3GPP to build the next generation 5G network standards and the equipment that's going to use them.

Another reason is a bit less technology related and leans towards the economic side. Huawei is the largest provider of commercial networking equipment (products that carriers and internet providers use) in the world and they are actively involved with the creation of 5G standards and network design. Other Chinese companies that make networking products don't make their own components and rely largely on companies like Marvell or Broadcom (yes, that Broadcom) when it comes to the individual parts inside. Huawei is also making big strides in Artificial Intelligence, both at the consumer facing and backend tech that makes it work. This means technology issues aren't the only concern and the U.S. does not want a company they assume is conencted to the Chinese governemnt to be the front runner in the next generation of communications.

These claims may be valid, they may not be. What's important is that you know why they are being made.

Again, I can't remark on the validity of these claims other than saying the people who are in the position to make them think we shouldn't use Huawei products. With a phone or watch or router from another company, the "brains" aren't made by potential Chinese government agents, which is what the U.S. intelligence service is implying. If this is true and we could be plauged with sophisticated spyware they are only doing their job; every risk, no matter how small, needs to be assessed. The fact that other countries don't have these concerns could mean China is targeting the U.S. only, or that the tech involved is so advanced other countries aren't seeing the same thing, or that the CIA, FBI, and NSA are just wrong. Any or al of these outcomes are possible.

Huawei insists that these claims are false and that their products have the highest standards when it comes to security and privacy. That's to be expected, and could very well be the truth. We're not here to refute or affirm any of these claims, but I feel it is important that everyone knows why Huawei is being singled out in the sea of Chinese electronics manufacturers. When it comes to functionality, features, and value we can assess Huawei products and we all appreciate how good they are.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

141 Comments
  • Now here comes all the keyboard warrior "national security experts" to say it's not true..
  • Its comical how many 'experts' there are here. I work in telecom, mainly long haul fiber optics, for everyone from wireless providers, ISP and tech companies like Google, Amazon and Microsoft. Not one of these network comments is intelligible. I can say that because I'm actually expert in that area. For the reasoning behind the NSA, FBI, who ever for banning... its secret, they have their reasoning and even if it strictly financial (I doubt it), that good enough for me.
  • Then maybe you can explain why only the U.S have taken issue with Huawei?
  • Because it seems like Huawei is the only to make the carrier equipment as mentioned by the article. I think that is what poses the larger issue, not the phones.
  • Cisco which has the most to lose from Huawei's success contributes nearly double to lobbyists and politicians. opensecrets.org The other companies are not a threat to Cisco. Also for over a decade Huawei has been stealing industrial secrets. Here are two examples which span 14 years: A) Huawei copied IOS 2003 (vs Cisco) https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10485560675556000
    B) Huawei committed industrial espionage 2017 (vs T-Mobile) https://www.theregister.co.uk/2017/05/19/huawei_spied_us_jury_finds/
  • Then maybe you should look at the industrial espionage China has committed over time. If you were going to gain access to business secrets which country would you commit to? It's pretty simple, why is this not clear?
  • Spoken like a true slave of the system
  • I mistrust ZTE, but it's because this Max Pro is an enormous piece of $#&!
  • LOL 😂
  • I love my LG Stylo 3 plus!! 👍👍
  • What does that have to do with anything lol
  • I have the LG Stylo 3 and I love it that's what it has do with it😁😁😁
  • Opinions vary. I have an Axon 7 and it's been a great experience for me.
  • Exactly, LG Stylo 3 plus 👍👍👍
  • So is this Blade Z Max. Not enough RAM for a phone this size.
  • Good write up, I agree. The networking equipment ban is understandable, the phones not so much.
  • So in other words, it's possible there is a threat, but it is beyond my comprehension to fully ascertain whether it is true or not... Programmatically there is a butt load you can do... Granted working with the mobile OS for apps is an extreme subset of the larger version... But being at the driver level - who knows... Anything is possible. Years ago I was told there was an OS (I think it was Linux based) embedded on the CMOS chip for desktops - that was interesting. To monitor machine language at the chip level - I don't know how to do that... I'm afraid I've been out of the programming frame of mind too long...
  • The NSA planted spyware (ShotGiant) on Huawei equipment to spy on them to find any links to the Chinese military and to snoop on every other government using Huawei which is most countries. After over 2 years they found zero evidence but decided they shouldn't be trusted anyway? Let's be honest here, this is all just part of a trade war between the US and China and Huawei are an easy target.
    I'm not Chinese or American so couldn't really care less about the US being blocked from buying Huawei devices. Huawei would like to sell their phones there too but they aren't really bothered, they've continued to grow rapidly regardless and from what I've read they'll be doubling down on European sales instead to make up for any sales lost in the US so Apple and Samsung will still lose marketshare to Huawei and they'll largely be unaffected
  • "...and they'll largely be unaffected" Nice spin, but certainly inaccurate. US is the largest high-end market in the world, and Huawei want's a piece of that action.
  • Of course they do. I'm not that naive but as they've had close to zero penetration in the US up til now anyway there not actually losing anything. Huawei will go for Plan B now like I said and will market the hell out of Europe instead to recoup a lot of the lost sales they had forecast in the US
  • I agree, the US buys more flagships than any other country, that's why Huawei wants a piece of the action!
  • Well the states will look stupid and another ten years out of date if the chinese gov bans ALL chinese firms from allowing 5g network kit to be sold/used in the usa,what you going to do then ?
    Nokia are next biggest network supplier,they us huawie hardware too !1
  • We'll do our own...
  • Well I'm glad to hear that ZTE is ok for now. Im planning on getting one of the new ZTE Tempo Go phones as a backup. Haven't had one for a long time. It's cheap and functional so it's perfect for me.
  • They did ask people to also not use ZTE phones. Not sure they're as worried because ZTE is a lot smaller than Huawei.
  • As the author indicated, it's not ZTE's size. It's the fact that they use off-the-shelf hardware in their phones such as Qualcomm chips, unlike Huawei.
  • The US government never trusted Huawei. When Sprint took total control of Clearwire one of the stipulations of that was Sprint had to remove all of the Huawei networking equipment. This was a huge blow to Sprint in the LTE build out since the equipment was easily upgradable to support LTE by a simple card swap rather than a total site rebuild.
  • Who says they trust Lenovo? The DoD issued a warning againsy Lenovo already in 2016. And they drew their consequences. At this point I don’t think any electronic product made in China is trustworthy. There’s some major spying operation (or worse) going on at the moment, with threats coming both from China and Russia (or potentially a collaboration between the two)
  • Lots of threats from America at the moment as well, due to the grab em bye the ***** idiot sat in the whitehouse.
  • So to use that logic, we were in danger with Clinton in the WH. Obama did this same thing so you must think Obama is an id10t as well. You're an id10t
  • May be the problem is the NSA cannot spy as with other brands, and not that Huawei or China do spy.
    As their is no prove China spy and there is a lot that USA spies, foreign countries and tehir own population when their constitution says: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable search ,,," "nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law ..." "No law of Congress can place in the hands of officials connected with the Postal Service any authority to invade the secrecy of letters and such sealed packages in the mail; and all regulations adopted as to mail matter of this kind must be in subordination to the great principle embodied in the fourth amendment of the Constitution." And by extension the secrecy of letters can be translated to secret of tele communications too, but we know it is not the case.
  • You have no idea what information they have Mr. armchair lawyer.
  • "Follow the money." My guess is US intelligence & political interests want the backbone of the upcoming 5G network built by American, or at least western friendly corporations. Billions are up for grabs, in what is kind of an all or nothing deal. America doesn't want to hand over all the mobile infrastructure work to China. The Five Eyes, often abbreviated as FVEY, is an intelligence alliance comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States. Whatever concerns American intelligence has, they have shared their concerns with their partners. FVEY works very closely together, 24/7. As a consumer, the outcome is terrible. If you had four true premium smartphone companies competing for business, then prices would drop. There is Apple alone in iOS, competing with Samsung, Google, and you might argue LG.... That's it. I do notice the Huawei P10 is available through Bell Canada for 🇨🇦$649 (that's $455 🇺🇸) on no contract. It's nothing special, but a value choice for some people. https://www.bell.ca/Mobility/Products/Huawei-P10 The joke in Canada is the high cost of mobile and data plans. A premium smartphone is expensive... But my God... To use it heavily with mobile data will cost you about $75 a month for 12GB of just data.... A monthly bill of $120-$120 is typical.
  • To change the subject, I have a co-worker that says a new mobile platform is in the works - all satellite driven instead of using cell towers. He was saying it could go online shortly - a few years... Maybe less... Cheaper? Probably not. I'll agree, to be secure, one has to make the proprietary equipment yourself. Is that what's driving this - I don't know - but possible... I'm not totally against the idea. But there is always outside influence and tampering...
  • You may be right, but how do you deal with the time delay from satellites? It takes a second or more to bounce up and back. If you thought Samsung skins were laggy before....
  • Truthfully I don't know - acceptance I guess...
  • Think Low Earth Orbit, not Geosynchronous.
  • Absolutely. And think 5G - eventually. I wonder if this person may be referring to Musk's "Starlink" initiative. I'm hoping like heck that it succeeds and becomes a viable alternative to the stranglehold of the current cadre of lowlife broadband monopolies in the US.
  • I'm sure if the Chinese government really wanted to hack into the US phone network it could.
    I seems strange to me no other government seems to have an issue.
  • Well, thats what they are supposedly gearing up to do in the future. Other countries aren't so worried as they aren’t a target, or threat, to the chinese government as we are.
  • Strange that our GCHQ who are to suppose to work closely with their American counter parts, continue to collaborate with Huawei. See links below: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/aug/07/china-huwaei-cell-uk-... https://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/2018/02/20/uk-cyber-security-agen... Definitely looks like political to me.
  • The UK is no threat to anyone though
  • Neither is the US anymore. Spent force my friend. They should be afraid of China.
  • I think there is a lot more here than meets the eye. China and some Chinese companies have used hacking to steal industrial secrets for years including designs for phones, power stations and a lot more. The US also spies on China. Everyone spies on everyone else. The question is whether this was done for security reasons, or economic ones, buy theoretically, either one is justified if you believe that the US doesn't do the same. Having said that, Dell's computers, Apple's laptops, iPhones etc are all made in Chinese factories. There have been many cases of Dell, Microsoft, and other laptops which were built by subcontractors not owned by the Chinese government, but that a tiny % of had spyware built right into the chipsets or motherboard components. They continue to try to get in wherever they can, and again, perhaps we do too. Huawei may be a bigger risk to the US govt, but all of the items built there are at risk due to moles in companies like Foxconn. Life has to go on. If we stopped using everything made in China, we would have to stop using all tech. It's complicated for sure.
  • Apple is probably behind this since they want to be the biggest selling Chinese phone in the American market.
  • They're not a Chinese phone. Huawei is part of the Chinese government.
  • ZTE and Lenovo illegally turn over user data when asked. Huawei does not. Not to China. Not to the US.
  • I'm sure the Chinese government is interested in intercepting a bored housewife's text to her husband "don't forget to pick up eggs"-type texts. 🙄
  • Arguably a laughable comment.
  • Clearly you don't understand what you're saying
  • The intelligence agencies have back doors on all platforms, but probably not on Huawei's. Hopefully The Donald with dismantle, reorganize these agencies after cleaning up #DeepState.
  • You must have insider knowledge. I'm rather surprised that "the intelligence agencies" decided to share their little secrets with you. How special.
  • Your sarcasm is weak
  • It's no secret. It was all exposed by Obama
  • Im pretty damn sure with how big of a mouth he has on his face and twitter, he hasnt been told a single real actual deep secret by anyone. And considering hes been in office how long now, he isnt gonna break up or clean up anything other thay what makes him and his friends money. Sorry to say he doesnt give a crap about u pal.
  • That's funny. He's done more good in his term than Obama did evil in his 8 treacherous years. And get this...Obama did basically the same thing and said nothing! Where's your outrage now?
  • That's sounds legit
  • We need to reaquire the internet that our former president gave up. I have always had an issue with Huawei. The federal government allows Samsung, Moto and a few others as there may an agreement on security. Less so with Huawei. I feel comfortable with the government's position on this. I will err on the side of our federal government trying to protect US security.
  • Meanwhile, Apple and Samsung executives rock back in their chairs grinning. Both companies are very capable of doing what Huawei is accused of.
  • Samsung wont cause their very existence would be threatened if the US ever decided to block their stuff....not just phones but tvs, receivers, speakers, etc... They do WAY too much of their business in our shops to EVER risk loosing it.
    Ditto on Apple. They thought china would be their new golden egg...didnt work out. The US is still by FAR their main source of revenue. They would never risk loosing that business by being banned.
  • As long as Samsung uses the snapdragon chipset in the US they have no issues. The government just doesn't want the exynos stateside
  • The exynos chip is not CDMA capable that's why we get the Snapdragon chip?
  • YOu mean being in bed directly with the Chinese government and giving them secrets willingly? I seriously doubt it
  • So long story short: Huawei is becoming too powerful, too popular, is sporting less American internals, so the U.S government wants to throttle that power? So hard to be 100% sure who's telling the truth. There are some valid points about certain things though.
  • Where were you when Obama wanted to do this? What's your source?
  • So if Huawei allows another company to make the chips or like a Snapdragon 845 version, then it'd be all good?
  • Makes you wonder. A lot how like only Snapdragon are allowed to put the SOC in American Samsung phones while the rest of the world use their own Exynos
  • The Snapdragon deal with Samsung was because Qualcomm chips handled American networks using CDMA technology. CDMA was officially shut off & terminated in Canada about a year ago, but still is in use in America. Samsung will also be first to receive 5G LTE modems from Samsung in their phones. But... Samsung Exynos CPU chips are now superior... They can do 4K UHd video at 120 frames per second... The latest Snapdragon can't.
  • 1-Japan actually still uses CDMA and is a very large mobile market too.
    2-When you have a 6 inch screen, I hope like hell it DOESNT have a 4k UHD screen...cause the small of a screen, you wont see or notice the extra pixels but your BATTERY will sure as hell will.
    So they fact they can do that is nothing more then a marketing spec and not a practical one...something qualcom understands a bit better.
  • I doesn't matter at this point if it's true or not. From a liability and insurance standpoint, you have been warned. If something turns out to be vulnerable, do you want to be the guy responsible for a data breach? Would your employer be understanding if their data was compromised by your decision to ignore the warning? I doubt it.
  • I think it's the credibility of the said warning that's in discussion here.
    Any organisation can put out a warning for whatever reasons they like.
    US secretary thinks there is a threat ( so they say. ) The rest of the world does not.
  • The US government also "warned" everybody that Saddam Hussein had WMDs, so, how those things unfolded?
  • They did. They used them against Iran during the Iran-Iraq war. Did they use all of them? Nope. Most went to syria before we invaded because most of the ones that were allegedly detroyed by russia were...ahem...Iraqi.
  • And even if they did. Who cares? We have WMDs. Who are we to tell another country that they can't have any? We're not "the good guys" and won't be until we stop killing our own unarmed citizens for no reason.
  • You had a valid argument till your last statement. Who are we to tell? The UN, that’s who. Many nations around the world put forth the outlawing of chemical and biological weapons for use during war. We just enforce it.... well, we try. We have WMD,s. Yup, we do. Also, we don’t gas or bomb our own citizens. Now to your last comment, if the assailant did what was asked, stop, freeze, get down and etc., and not run, taunt, or actually (god forbid) commit a crime, then that wouldn’t be a problem to the extent it is today. Now would it?
  • You my friend are in the wrong country. Have you been paying attention to what Iran, NK and Russia are doing? Seriously?? You need to stop listening and believing sound bytes and start thinking. Unfortunately your generation is our future......are we in trouble!!
  • They sure did. Look at Syria. Pull your head out of Hillary's ***.
  • Could it be that all parties are right? That it is true that the US is using this matter for political and economical gain? Certainly, to date I have not witnessed an action by the US that was not profitable in some way. Is there a real threat from China in the form of Huawei? You'd be foo