By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Aliv’s top executive yesterday said it sees no “short term” impact from the US government placing Chinese equipment off-limits even though its mobile network is “all Huawei”.
Damian Blackburn, pictured, told Tribune Business that federal restrictions imposed on the US Embassy, which prevent it doing business with Bahamian companies that use Chinese-manufactured equipment to supply goods and services, would not hurt its business as it does not have the Nassau diplomatic post’s account.
Revealing that the mobile operator, which is presently 51.75 percent majority owned by the government, was “keeping a close eye” on the Trump administration’s policy to Huawei and other Chinese state-owned companies, Mr Blackburn said it was impossible to say whether this would be a factor in future network and technology-related decisions.
With Huawei’s products having “proven to be fantastic 4.5G LTE technology for Aliv, he added that the mobile operator had repaid “substantial amounts” - but not all - of the roughly $30m to $40m in vendor financing that the Chinese communications manufacturer provided it with to help launch its network and operations.
“We’re keeping a close eye on the changes that are happening, but we don’t see see anything impacting us in the short-term, no,” Mr Blackburn told this newspaper on the US stance towards China and its state-owned companies.
“It’s all Huawei,” he added of the network. “Obviously they were selected through an RFP (Request for Proposal) process before Aliv existed. The technology, and what was selected, was the best in terms of an engineering road map and where they were. When making future decisions we will have a similar process.”
Aliv’s rival, the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC), yesterday declined to comment on the US Embassy policy and whether it has Huawei products or those of any other Chinese company in its network.
However, Mr Blackburn added that his company was “not even anywhere near” launching an RFP or making a decision relating to a fifth generation (5G) mobile network in The Bahamas. “In any of the technology and software we need, we will be following a proper process of selection and take into account all factors,” he said. “We will determine at the time what is the right decision.
“The situation [with Huawei] is fluid and dynamic, and changes month-to-month, day-to-day. We’re happy with the performance of the technology we have in the network, and it has been proven to be fantastic 4.5G/Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology for Aliv.”
Confirming that Huawei had provided Aliv with around $30m-$40m in vendor financing, Mr Blackburn said “substantial amounts” had been repaid but the process was not quite complete.
Huawei and other Chinese state-owned communications provider, ZTE, were designated as “national security” threats by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on June 30. However, some observers believe that superpower politics, and issues of trade, competitiveness and economic dominance - rather than national security - lie behind the US move.
However, the Trump administration has applied significant pressure to other nations, including the UK, to ban Huawei technology from their 5G mobile networks on the basis that the company’s close links to the Chinese Communist Party and state security apparatus mean its products could provide a gateway for eavesdropping and spying by Beijing.