Like other schools, UI has moved to keep Huawei disconnected on campus


Listen to this article

CHAMPAIGN — The University of Illinois took steps in 2016 to forbid equipment from a Chinese telecommunications-equipment maker that the U.S. government now considers a national-security threat.

In December of that year, the UI, with the College of Engineering, took the initiative to forbid the "connecting of any equipment or other items from Huawei that would connect to our networks by wired, wireless or any other connection," spokeswoman Robin Kaler said.

"We also required any engaged researchers to take reasonable steps to prevent Huawei employees from connecting to our networks," she said.

Illinois is one of several U.S. universities to take similar steps, according to a Reuters report last month, including the University of California-Berkeley, the University of Wisconsin and Stanford University.

Those universities reviewed their equipment, and in some cases removed it, Reuters reported, to comply with the National Defense Authorization Act signed into law last year and avoid losing federal funding.

That act restricted recipients of federal funding from using equipment from Huawei and some other Chinese tech companies.

Illinois took its steps in 2016, before the law was signed but after U.S. officials began warning about Huawei.

Around the same time the UI took those steps, the UI Research Park added Huawei as a tenant.

It opened an initial office in the fall of 2016, according to the Research Park website, and held a grand opening for its space in October 2017.

But Kaler and the Research Park developer said Huawei employees there don't use university internet or equipment.

"Companies in the Research Park, except those in our EnterpriseWorks incubator, commercially lease office suites from a private landlord, not the University of Illinois," Kaler said. "They are responsible for providing their own equipment and contract with private internet service providers."

A Wi-Fi network with the name "Huawei-Champaign" appears around its office at the Atkins building in the Research Park, and Andrea Ruedi, with Fox/Atkins Development, confirmed that Huawei uses its own equipment and networks.

"They have a lease just like any other tenant," she said. "So it's a binding contract between the owner of the building, the landlord and Huawei. The university is not part of that agreement."

Regarding their equipment and networking, Ruedi said, "They set up everything themselves."

Huawei officials, both at the Research Park office and at its corporate office, did not respond to requests for comment.

Huawei is the second-largest manufacturer of cellphones and the world's largest manufacturer of telecommunications equipment, which is used in cell towers and routers, for example.

The U.S. government has been issuing warnings since at least 2012 that Huawei equipment could be used to spy on American companies and government agencies, though there's been no public evidence that it's done so.

The antagonism has heated up in recent months.

Meng Wanzhou, Huawei's chief financial officer daughter of its founder, was arrested in December for allegedly violating U.S. sanctions against Iran by selling equipment to the country through a subsidiary.

And last month, the U.S. Department of Justice filed 13 charges against the company and Meng, including for allegedly stealing trade secrets from T-Mobile.

Huawei has denied the charges.