U.S. drafts rule to allow Huawei and U.S. firms to work together on 5G standards: sources

(Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Commerce is close to signing off on a new rule that allows U.S. companies to work with China’s Huawei Technologies on setting standards for next generation 5G networks, people familiar with the matter said.

FILE PHOTO: A Huawei logo is seen on a device at a media event in London, Britain, February 18, 2020. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

Engineers in some U.S. technology companies stopped engaging with Huawei to develop standards after the Commerce Department blacklisted the company last year. The listing left companies uncertain about what technology and information their employees could share with Huawei, the world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker.

That has put the U.S. at a disadvantage, say industry and government officials. In standards setting meetings, where protocols and technical specifications are developed that allow equipment from different companies to function together smoothly, Huawei gained a stronger voice as U.S. engineers sat back in silence.

Industry standards are big business for telecommunications firms. They vie to have their patented technology considered essential to the standard, which can boost a company’s bottom line by billions of dollars.

The Commerce Department placed Huawei on its “entity list” last May, restricting sales of U.S. goods and technology to the company and raising questions about how U.S. firms could participate in organizations that establish industry standards.

After nearly a year of uncertainty, the department has drafted a new rule to address the issue, two sources told Reuters. The rule, which could still change, essentially allows U.S. companies to participate in standards bodies where Huawei is also a member, the sources said.

The draft is under final review at the Commerce Department and, if cleared, would go to other agencies for approval, the people said. It is unclear how long the full process will take or if another agency will object.

“As we approach the year mark, it is very much past time that this be addressed and clarified,” said Naomi Wilson, senior director of policy for Asia at the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI), which represents companies including Amazon.co Inc (AMZN.O), Qualcomm Inc (QCOM.O) and Intel Corp (INTC.O).

The U.S. government wants U.S. companies to remain competitive with Huawei, Wilson said. “But their policies have inadvertently caused U.S. companies to lose their seat at the table to Huawei and others on the entity list.”

The rule is only expected to address Huawei, the people familiar with the matter said, not other listed entities like Chinese video surveillance firm Hikvision (002415.SZ).

The Department of Commerce declined to comment. Huawei also declined to comment.

Six U.S. senators, including China hawks Marco Rubio, James Inhofe and Tom Cotton, last month sent a letter to the U.S. secretaries of Commerce, State, Defense and Energy about the urgent need to issue regulations confirming that U.S. participation in 5G standards-setting is not restricted by the entity listing.

“We are deeply concerned about the risks to the U.S. global leadership position in 5G wireless technology as a result of this reduced participation,” the letter said.

Reporting by Karen Freifeld; editing by Chris Sanders and Steve Orlofsky

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