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Huawei continues to expand in Brazil despite fears of 5G ban

. Dec 08, 2020
huawei 5g farms Image: Solveig Been/Shutterstock

As the Jair Bolsonaro administration reaches its halfway point, one major question remains unanswered: will Chinese giant Huawei be banned from next year’s 5G auction in Brazil? The question is pivotal for Beijing’s international plans, and while the Brazilian government has yet to take a definitive stance on the issue, the company continues to go about its business — trying to increase its footprint in the local telecom market to a point where a ban would be virtually impossible.

As fellow Brasília correspondent Débora Álvares showed, the Chinese firm has nurtured strong relationships in Congress – notably with lawmakers from the Center-West state of Goiás.

And it is in that same state that Huawei is making another bold move to plant its flag in Brazil&#8217;s fifth-generation networks, moving to implement a 5G grid to be used by <a href="https://brazilian.report/tech/2020/09/07/all-in-one-technology-bring-4g-brazil-far-flung-rural-areas/">agricultural properties</a>.</p> <p>The project, launched in the municipality of Rio Verde (200 kilometers southwest of state capital Goiânia), is centered around an internet hub in an area of up to 300 square kilometers (or 55 football fields) that would increase the efficiency of artificial intelligence systems for crop management and disease control.</p> <p>&#8220;Instead of forcing producers to use pesticides and similar products on their entire crop, they will be able to monitor where exactly they face <a href="https://brazilian.report/environment/2020/12/01/new-plagues-of-locusts-threaten-south-american-crops/">diseases</a>, with pinpoint precision,&#8221; says Adriano da Rocha Lima, the Goiás state secretary-general. &#8220;This kind of technology can reduce the use of chemical products by up to 95 percent, saving costs of BRL 600,000 (USD 117,300) per hectare of planted land,&#8221; he adds.</p> <p>Besides this local Huawei-powered 5G network —which is provided by Claro Telecom — authorities presented another technology, a form of trolley that runs through cropped fields. &#8220;It will carry out image monitoring of the lower part of a soybean crop, capturing what is missed by satellite images,&#8221; says Mr. Lima.</p> <p>This &#8220;rural 5G&#8221; will be tested by researchers from multiple Goiás-based institutions focused on agricultural development and artificial intelligence, and will serve as a &#8220;model farm&#8221; to be emulated by big producers. &#8220;With 5G, we will test several solutions which can gain scale if successful,&#8221; says Anderson Soares, a professor of the Center for Excellence in Artificial Intelligence (Ceia).</p> <p>This is not Huawei&#8217;s first foray into the fields, following ongoing experiments launched in China and Switzerland. &#8220;Agricultural machines today run on state-of-the-art technology. Now, we must connect with each other,&#8221; says Tiago Fontes, a marketing director for Huawei in Brazil.</p> <h2>Brazil&#8217;s Huawei skepticism comes from government</h2> <p>Neither authorities nor researchers seem to be fazed by accusations that Huawei equipment could have <a href="https://www.axios.com/huawei-equipment-has-secret-back-doors-us-says-6aa91d3e-6d9e-4575-9066-a688567722d5.html">secret &#8220;back doors&#8221;</a> allowing the Chinese government to covertly obtain data from networks using the firm&#8217;s infrastructure.&nbsp;</p> <p>These accusations — backed by most Western cybersecurity experts — have been more recently voiced by Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro, the president&#8217;s third-eldest son and chairman of the House&#8217;s Foreign Affairs Committee. He said on Twitter that Brazil will choose a 5G grid “<a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/11/25/brazil-economy-minister-paulo-guedes-threatens-to-walk/">without Chinese espionage</a>,” hinting that Chinese firm Huawei could be banned from the bidding process.</p> <p>But pragmatism is the name of the game in Goiás. &#8220;Who else will finance the massive investment that will be required to replace Huawei equipment?&#8221; questioned Mr. Lima.</p> <p>Earlier this year, President Jair Bolsonaro’s chief security officer and retired Army General Augusto Heleno quietly signed an ordinance defining the cybersecurity directives to be respected by 5G infrastructure providers in Brazil. The move made few headlines but was noteworthy, placing Brazil <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/11/24/5g-could-brazil-jair-bolsonaro-flip-flop-on-huawei/">equidistant</a> from its main trading partners China and the U.S. (you can <a href="https://brazilian.report/tech/2020/03/28/brazil-quietly-passes-new-5g-regulations-coronavirus/">read it in detail here</a>).</p> <p>The rules do not give Chinese behemoth Huawei a completely open market — making Brazil open to U.S.-supported companies, such as Cisco or Nordic firms Ericsson and Nokia.</p> <p>Gen. Heleno’s ordinance establishes the principle of “diversity.” One of the practical consequences is that telecom operators must have different contractors, in a way that the same “geographical area” will have at least two operators using equipment from different suppliers.</p> <p>The future seems rather uncertain, with Congress on one side pushing to strike down the ordinance — while the Bolsonaro clan, on the other side, continue their vocal criticism of Huawei.

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Renato Alves

Renato Alves is a Brazilian journalist who has worked for Correio Braziliense and Crusoé.

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