Despite Canada-China tensions, Huawei announces plan to bring internet to remote Arctic communities

Some 20 Arctic communities and 70 more in rural Quebec are set to get 4G internet under the plan.

By Steve Scherer, Reuters - July 24, 2019
A Huawei company logo is pictured at the Shenzhen International Airport in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China July 22, 2019. (Aly Song / Reuters)

OTTAWA — Even as tensions between China and Canada have grown, following the arrest of Huawei’s CFO Meng Wanzhou, the company announced Monday a partnership with two Canadian companies to furnish high-speed 4G internet to isolated communities in Canada’s Far North.

Huawei said it would partner with ICE Wireless and Iristel to provide high-speed internet to 20 communities in the Canadian Arctic and 70 in rural and remote areas of Quebec by 2025, potentially reaching some 200,000 people living in those areas.

No financial details were provided.

Huawei also said it would include residents of the Far North in its plans to train 1,000 Canadians to install and use its technology, and that it would launch a major advertising campaign in movie theaters across the country featuring short documentaries about how high-speed internet is helping people in the Far North.

The Huawei announcements come amid diplomatic tensions over the arrest of Meng — the daughter of the company’s founder — and as experts in Ottawa are reviewing the security implications of 5G networks, including Huawei’s participation. The United States put Huawei, the world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker, on a blacklist in May, citing national security concerns.

Last week, Reuters reported that Canada was likely to postpone a decision on whether to allow Huawei to supply 5G network equipment until after the October federal election due to increasingly strained relations with Beijing.

The Canadian unit of China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd sought to distance itself from the actions of the Chinese government on Monday, with a top local executive saying the company is worried about two Canadian men being held by Beijing.

After Meng was picked up in Vancouver on a U.S. arrest warrant, China detained two Canadian men and later charged them with spying. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has condemned the arrests and several Canadian allies, including the United States, are calling for their release.

“Obviously we’re concerned, like all Canadians are concerned, about their well-being,” Huawei Canada’s Vice President of Corporate Affairs Alykhan Velshi said when asked about the two men being held in China.

“This is a time of real tension between Canada and China, and it can only be solved by governments,” Velshi told reporters in Ottawa.


Velshi said the characterization of the company’s Canadian offices as “Dr. Evil’s lair” where they are “toiling away at the latest world-ending scheme” is false. Instead the offices are filled with “a bunch of engineers solving engineering problems,” he said.

Instead, he said, Huawei has been supplying network equipment in Canada since 2008, and had some 1,100 employees nationally.

Referring to the 5G decision, Velshi said: “We would ask for the government to judge us on our record in Canada, and for decisions to be made based on technology and not politics.”