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The Huawei elephant in the room at the Mobile Carriers Show

There is an elephant on the exhibit floor of the Mobile Carriers Show, a conference focused on regional and rural mobile services, and that elephant's name is Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd.

Situated at the very front of the room, Huawei's booth at the show is larger than many others and well-stocked with equipment ranging from wireless tower antennas to backhaul equipment. Benoit Coulombe, director of service solutions at Huawei Technologies USA, said Huawei has been working with many U.S. small and regional communications operators. As one of the world's largest wireless equipment suppliers, the company has a price advantage over its competitors because of its scale, he said.

In addition to pricing, flexibility is key. Coulombe noted while some equipment manufacturers insist on having their own teams install equipment for a network operator, Huawei will let the operator decide how the equipment should be installed. For operators in Montana or Nebraska, he said, this ability to be more self-sufficient is important. For operators wanting more managed services, Huawei provides that too, out of its U.S. office in Texas.

While Huawei is promoting its technology and services to smaller operators on the show floor in Las Vegas, politicians in Washington have expressed concerns that Chinese manufacturers could allow their country's government to install spy technology in devices sold in the U.S. And this is where the elephant comes in.

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FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn speaks at the Mobile Carriers Show

Source: S&P Global Market Intelligence

The uncertainties around security and Huawei's relationship with small and rural operators were especially apparent during a surprise visit at the Mobile Carriers Show by Commissioner Mignon Clyburn of the Federal Communications Commission. Speaking on the show floor, she noted that "a one-size-fits-all regulatory construct" does not work for smaller operators.

And while Clyburn spoke, Huawei's sign, with its bright red logo, dangled from the ceiling a few feet behind her.

Earlier this year, the security concerns led Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc. to back out of deals to sell Huawei smartphones in the U.S.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai recently told lawmakers in both the House and Senate that he shared their concerns about "the security threat that Huawei and other Chinese technology companies pose" to U.S. communications networks; on March 26, he proposed new rules that would bar recipients of the FCC's Universal Service Fund from purchasing communications network equipment or services from companies deemed to pose a threat to U.S. national security. USF dollars are designed to help offset the cost of connecting rural residents to phone and internet services.

Though Pai's proposal did not single out any companies by name, it follows the introduction of the Defending U.S. Government Communications Act in the House and Senate, which would block the U.S. government from buying or leasing telecommunications equipment and services from Huawei and ZTE Corp., specifically.

Additional coverage of the Mobile Carriers Show:

Debate over small cell sizes ignites as 5G deployment ramps up

Mobile CEO says cable giants in for some 'hard lessons' with wireless offerings