|Huawei is being treated as a national security threat in some countries over its ties to the Chinese government. Reuters|
By Jung Min-ho
South Korea's No. 3 mobile carrier LG Uplus is facing increasing pressure to exclude Huawei from supplying equipment to its 5G network amid cyber-espionage concerns surrounding the Chinese company.
The issue resurfaced two weeks ago after the Australian government decided to ban Huawei from rolling out 5G technology for the country's wireless networks due to an "unacceptable security risk."
Park Hye-cheon, 52, a LG Uplus customer in Seoul, said she will change her mobile carrier if LG buys Huawei's equipment, as one of LG's executives suggested in June.
"I'm worried that my personal information may end up in the hands of criminals who would use it to their advantage," she said. "According to news reports, many criminal organizations notorious for phishing scams are active in China and their primary targets are Koreans."
In the long run, she believes it is also risky for the government to rely on Huawei to build key infrastructure.
"South Korea is currently on good terms with China and North Korea, but history shows that anything could affect their relations overnight," she said. "If that happens, South Korea might regret the decision to allow the Huawei participation."
Lim Ji-yeon, a long-time LG Uplus customer in Goyang, also thinks LG should reconsider.
"If the deal could jeopardize South Korea's national security, LG should think deeply about its selection," she said.
On the Cheong Wa Dae website, hundreds of people have signed petitions against allowing Huawei to take part in the country's 5G network rollout. Some even threaten to boycott all LG's products if it signs the deal.
"Haven't you learned anything from China's THAAD revenge? I think the deal will eventually backfire (on Korea)," one petitioner said.
Korea's mobile carriers are aspiring to become the world's first to build infrastructure using wireless 5G technology, which promises to enable new technologies such as self-driving cars with ultrafast communications.
Korea's big three mobile carriers ― SK Telecom, KT and LG Uplus ― are expected to announce their 5G network equipment suppliers soon. An LG official said it could be this month or next at the latest.
Each of the operators will select two to four vendors, probably among four manufacturers ― Samsung, Nokia, Ericsson and Huawei. They are in the late phase of testing equipment.
The LG official said the company has used Huawei's equipment for its LTE infrastructure over the past several years without any major problems.
"We can't say security issues surrounding Huawei have not affected us in terms of selecting our partners," the official said. "But given that its equipment is good and price competitive, Huawei is certainly one of the strong candidates under our consideration."
Security risks of using Huawei's products have not yet emerged as a major issue at the National Assembly. But in comments apparently aimed at LG Uplus in July, Rep. Shin Yong-hyeon, of the minor opposition Bareunmirae Party, raised the issue and said all Korean firms should consider security issues as an important factor in selecting 5G equipment suppliers.