Philippines' biggest telco exploring other 5G vendors

Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co's mobile phone unit and its rival Globe Telecom are set to roll out 5G wireless network services by the first half of the year.
Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co's mobile phone unit and its rival Globe Telecom are set to roll out 5G wireless network services by the first half of the year.PHOTO: AFP

The Philippines' largest telecommunications company is looking to other vendors of 5G equipment, as it acknowledged security concerns raised by the United States about Chinese technology giant Huawei.

Security experts have said the government should look closer at Huawei's supply deals with the country's telcos, following sweeping charges by the US outlining a decade-long attempt by the company to steal trade secrets, obstruct a criminal investigation and evade economic sanctions on Iran.

"I think part of the concern of the US is it would have military applications, and to the extent that a vendor might have access to data generated by the network and by mobile devices... We ourselves have communicated this concern to Huawei," Philippine Long Distance Telephone (PLDT) chief executive Manuel Pangilinan told reporters on Thursday.

He said PLDT had asked Huawei to tell "us where the possible danger points are in terms of mobility and if they are able to access data generated by the network".

"I think we ourselves have a heightened concern about security on the network and devices," added Mr Pangilinan.

He said PLDT is now also in talks with Sweden's Ericsson, Finland's Nokia as well as China's ZTE for its 5G needs.

But Huawei is "ahead of the others technically", he said.

PLDT's mobile phone unit, Smart Communications, and its rival Globe Telecom are set to roll out 5G wireless network services in the country by the first half of the year.

The Philippines has more than 26 million smartphone users.

 
 
 
 

Smart fired up its first 5G station at the 9,450ha New Clark City, a former US military base, 90km north of the capital Manila, last November.

Both Smart and Globe are using equipment from Huawei for their 5G networks.

Acting Information and Communications Technology Secretary Eliseo Rio told senators in November that up to 80 per cent of the equipment Smart and Globe use in their networks already comes from Huawei.

Lawmakers have been investigating another Chinese company, China Telecom, as it holds a 40 per cent stake in a consortium that is set to become the Philippines' third telco.

"Can we trust them?" Senator Grace Poe, who heads the Pub-lic Services Committee, said in one hearing.

"It is not a secret that China Telecom is a government corporation of China... Are we allowing a substantial control of a portion of our Internet traffic for the purpose of furthering their interest? In fact, do we even have the capability to reduce, control or mitigate these risks?" she asked.

Some senators have also raised concerns over a 20 billion peso (S$520 million) surveillance system in metropolitan Manila that will use hardware supplied by Huawei.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2019, with the headline 'Philippines' biggest telco exploring other 5G vendors'. Print Edition | Subscribe