China's Huawei makes its Crown fibre pitch - with big govt names in attendance
In July, prime minister John Key - recently returned from the Shanghai World Expo - told TVNZ Q&A host Guyon Espiner that Chinese telecommunications infrastructure company Huawei could potentially play "a major role" in the Crown fibre roll-out.
"No one's saying they would be the final selected partner in New Zealand but they've certainly got the capacity if they wanted to," Mr Key said.
This week, as key deadlines approach in the government's $1.35 billion ultrafast broadband (UFB) project Huawei is looming even larger
Yesterday, in Auckland, the company held a technology showcase.
Tomorrow, it will host an all-day conference on ultrafast broadband.
And rivals can only look enviously at a speaker list that includes Communications Minister Stephen Joyce, Crown Fibre Holdings' Graham Mitchell, Crown Fibre Holdings CTO John Greenhough, and David Storrie, chief executive of Singapore’s Nucleus Connect (the company rolling out fibre services across Singapore, using Huawei equipment).
Huawei spokesman Luke Coleman told NBR that the Chinese company is not looking to make any direct investment, or pitch for UFB business in New Zealand per se. But it has held talks with major bidders (which include Telecom and members of the Regional Fibre Group, an alliance of lines and fibre companies), angling to be their main supplier if they win.
The likes of Alcatel-Lucent, Nokia-Siemens and Ericsson - Huawei's key rivals in the telecommunications infrastructure market - may well be quietly gnashing their teeth at the way the PM seems to have pre-anointed a Crown fibre favourite.
Certainly, he seemed to hint to Q&A that Huawei could provide the best value. To revisit part of the transcript:
JOHN We had a bit of a round table yesterday, equivalent to sort of what we do with the United States, where we have the US/New Zealand partnership forum, we have kicked off an idea like that here in Shanghai, and there were some very heavy hitters around the table. So some big players, both from New Zealand and from China, and they certainly have a desire to want to do things in New Zealand and increase their involvement.
GUYON Are there specific projects that have been looked at, I mean I've seen commentators talk about projects like Transmission Gully in Wellington. I mean is that a realistic thing that the Chinese might come and do something like that?
JOHN They might do, and at the end of the day from New Zealand's perspective I mean we're looking for value for money. So let's take ultrafast broadband. They've got a lot of expertise in that area, Huawei is a big player, they're bigger round the world, they've got a huge partnership in the United Kingdom for instance.
Huawei already has considerable here. It is 2degrees' main technology partner for its mobile network, and Vodafone's key supplier for its landline "Red Network" local loop unbundling project.
The company's operations span from fibre optic networks to mobile network infrastructure to handsets.