Russia's top mobile operator MTS defended its decision to allow China's Huawei to build out its 5G networks but will continue to work with other firms, the company's CEO said Friday.
In an interview with CNBC's Geoff Cutmore at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), MTS CEO Alexey Kornya said Huawei is "fully qualified" to provide infrastructure for Russia's next-generation wireless networks. The statement directly contracts warnings from U.S. officials that Huawei's 5G software and equipment poses a national security threat.
"Every country has its own right and capabilities to identify whether that or different types of the equipment represent certain concerns," Kornya said. "In this sense Huawei is fully qualified to be in our networks."
Kornya added MTS is also working with Sweden's Ericsson and Finland's Nokia on 5G technology saying "all three major vendors are represented in our network." Huawei is the world's largest provider of telecommunications equipment, followed by Nokia and Ericsson, according to research firm Dell'Oro Group.
"In business thinking you always balance between vendors and you don't want to fall into dependency from one vendor," he said.
The Trump administration has put Huawei on a blacklist, warning its equipment poses security risks because it could open a backdoor for Chinese spying. U.S. officials point to Chinese laws that appear to require domestic companies to assist the government in intelligence gathering when the communist party in Beijing requests it. Huawei has repeatedly denied it would engage in any form of espionage.
MTS announced this week it had signed a deal with Huawei to hold test launches of new 5G networks this year and in 2020. Chinese President Xi Jinping is attending the forum as part of a three-day state visit to Russia, where he called President Vladimir Putin his "best friend." China's commerce ministry reportedly said Thursday that Beijing and Moscow had signed more than $20 billion of deals to boost economic ties in areas such as technology and energy during the visit.
Asked whether MTS was put under pressure to sign the Huawei deal this week, Kornya replied "absolutely no."
5G is designed to bring faster speeds and lower lag times than previous wireless networks. It has touted as a potential game-changer for industries like driverless cars and remote surgeries that require quick, reliable internet connections.