Chinese telecom giant stepping up Iran operations amid US sanctions

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At a time when Western companies are quitting their operations in Iran, China has stepped forward to increase its business activities especially in the sanctions-hit republic’s telecommunication industry.

Huawei Technologies, Chinese’s multinational networking telecommunications equipment and services company signed a contract to install equipment that will help and improve Iran’s capability in keeping track record of its mobile phone users and their location.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal report, Huawei has signed a contract with Iran’s largest mobile-phone operator that allows police to track people based on the locations of their cellphones. After the installation, it would be possible for Iranian state security to track people?s locations using their mobile phones.

In a recent report by Bloomberg, Huawei Technologies Co. confirmed that the company has sold telecom equipment and a ?mobile news delivery platform? to MTN Irancell Telecommunications Services Co., Iran?s second- largest mobile provider but denied the fact that the equipment will be used as a censorship weapon.

”Huawei doesn?t provide any services relating to monitoring or filtering technologies and equipment anywhere in the world,? company’s spokesman said in an e-mailed statement.?”Huawei?s work in Iran is no different than our work in any other market and we are only involved in the R&D, manufacturing and sales of telecommunications equipment that is for commercial and civilian use in Iran and other markets in which we operate,” it added.

This is not the first time when a telecom company has offered its service to keep a check on people as many Western companies who have been more than happy to sell their software to known authoritarian regimes. Canadian company Netsweep has reportedly assisted in censorship in several Middle Eastern countries including the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Yemen. US company Blue Coat?s software was found on Syrian servers while French company Amesys provided software that was used by former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi?s censorship arm.

Huawei Technologies is also investing in Canada and London, strengthening Canada?s wireless system and bringing free wireless to London?s subway system. In case of its investment in Iran, the company is trying to convince the world that it is nothing different than its investment in Canada and Britain.

William Plummer, Huawei?s Vice President of External Affairs in Washington said, ?What we?re doing in Iran is the same as what we?re doing in any market. Our goal is to enrich people?s lives through communications.?

According to China’s embassy in Tehran, Huawei is operating in Iran’s telecommunications industry since 1999. Prior to Iran’s political unrest in 2009, Huawei was already a major supplier to Iran’s mobile-phone networks, along with Telefon AB L.M. Ericsson and Nokia Siemens Networks, a giant venture between Nokia Corp and Siemens AG, according to MTN Irancell documents.

Mobile-phone business in Iran is at its peak with the country’s telecom markets accomplishing an estimated $9.1 billion as of last year. According to Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Pyramid Research,?Iran had about 66 million mobile-phone subscribers covering about 70% of the population. In contrast, about 36% of Iranians had fixed-line phones.

United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), a political pressure group, has asked Huawei to end its investment and business immediately in Iran. UANI insists “Huawei provides Iranian regime with cellular and electronic technology that it has used to conduct surveillance on its citizens, track down dissidents and human rights activists.”

Huawei is emerging as a telecom giant by investing in many countries and teaming up with key Middle East operators such as Etisalat, STC, Zain, Batelco, du, Qtel, Mobily,Vodafone and Orange Telecom.

Recently, Huawei, Etisalat, and the Export-Import Bank of China announced their MoU for strategic cooperation, framing Etisalat’s entire structure in 18 countries. The agreement between the two companies was signed to improve people’s lives with emerging telecom technologies across Asia, Africa and Middle East. Huawai and Etisalat still have pending contracts which are to be finalised soon.

Human right activists, who were already worried and raising voice against China’s investment in eurozone debt crisis and Iran’s policy of spying on its own people, have one more thing to worry about. Activists hailed the U.S. Commerce Department decision in September to dismiss Huawei?s bid of participating in the development of a national wireless emergency network for police, medical personnel and fire department because of ?national security concerns?.

BSNL the Indian telecom giant, was also asked by the Indian department of telecommunications to not have any kind of contract with Chinese vendor (ZTE and Huawei).

While the US and Indian governments are rational about security issues, and UANI urging Huawei to end its operations in Iran, the telecom giant is aggrandizing its structure in private sector.

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