As wildfires raged near the central British Columbia community of Lac la Hache, emergency officials struggled to transmit life-saving information to residents.
Slow and spotty internet meant some people couldn’t download maps telling them where dangerous fires had broken out in the summer of 2017, said Al Richmond, director of the electoral area that contains the town.
“So much of the information we send out is very detailed and in large packages, so if you have slow internet service it takes a great deal of time to get that,” Mr. Richmond said.
The community will soon have faster wireless service through a trial project from ABC Communications using Huawei Technologies equipment. The Chinese company is pushing ahead with a strategy to enhance connectivity in rural and northern Canada, despite the political firestorm surrounding its presence in Western markets.
While much of the debate has focused on whether Huawei should participate in building the next generation of wireless technology in Canada, known as 5G, the company’s already extensive presence in the country’s 3G and 4G networks has faced less scrutiny.
Huawei is continuing to supply equipment to improve internet access in underserved markets. Remote communities and telecommunications companies are eager to install the technology, but a security expert says Canada should be wary of Huawei expanding its influence.
“There are security concerns relating to Huawei generally as a corporation,” said Richard Fadden, a former national security adviser to the Prime Minister. “Everything they do and all their technology is susceptible to being used by the security authorities of the Chinese state.
“The older the equipment, the more focused it is, the more limited it is, the lesser the threat. But I would argue that the issue isn’t only 5G … it’s the idea that Huawei, as a Chinese corporation, is required by Chinese law to assist the Chinese security authorities.”
China has a law that requires companies to co-operate and assist with national intelligence investigations. Its government has a very aggressive approach to information and intelligence gathering, so there is always a risk, Mr. Fadden said.
Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, was arrested at Vancouver’s airport in December at the request of U.S. authorities who want to extradite her on fraud charges. Soon after, China detained two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who were formally arrested and accused of spying.