The White House is considering an executive order that would ban American wireless carriers from buying equipment from Chinese companies, according to a new report from Reuters. Such an order would primarily impact Huawei and ZTE — both Chinese companies, and two of the largest manufacturers of telecom equipment — and have a significant impact on the ongoing rollout of 5G network infrastructure.
The planned executive order would direct the Commerce Department to block purchases of Chinese telecom equipment on national security grounds, an action that would not require approval from Congress. Because the order would focus on purchases made by American carriers, it would primarily impact cell towers rather than phones purchased by individuals. Reuters claims the order has been under consideration for as long as eight months, citing anonymous sources.
Huawei and ZTE already face significant difficulties in the US market. Both companies were barred from US government use as part of a defense bill earlier this year, sending a strong message to carriers. ZTE faced catastrophic sanctions from the government over the summer, although the sanctions were ultimately lifted in the face of heavy lobbying.
A formal White House block on the technologies is unlikely to delay the 5G rollout, but it would further concerns that a division in network technology might give rise to an increasingly fragmented internet.
Huawei put the issue in even simpler terms. “Barring Huawei from participating in various 5G markets is like an NBA game without all-stars,” Huawei chairman Guo Ping wrote on the company’s official WeChat page on Thursday. “You can’t play to the highest possible technical standards.”