Huawei Offers London Underground a Free Mobile Network in Time for Olympics

Huawei is offering to outfit London's Underground transit system with a free mobile phone network in time for the 2012 Olympics. Some, however, are uneasy about such a gift.

Huawei, the Chinese electronics maker and telecom solutions giant whose technology is at the heart of numerous mobile networks, is looking to make a bigger name for itself outside of Asia. As part of these efforts, it has offered to outfit the London Underground with a mobile phone network in time for the 2012 Olympics-for free.

Huawei reportedly presented its offer as a gift from one Olympic host to another. News site AFP estimated the cost of such a gift to run approximately $80 million, while a report in the Financial Times put the price of fully outfitting the Underground at more than twice that.

Under the proposal being considered, according to FT, Huawei would offer its hardware at a steep discount, and additionally hope to earn income from maintenance fees. Critics of the offer have suggested that terrorists might try to use the mobile network to remotely detonate explosives.

The report added that Transport for London (TfL), which runs the Underground, said in a statement that TfL and the mayor of London "are currently in discussion with mobile phone operators and other suppliers about the potential provision of mobile phone services on the deep Tube network. Given the financial pressures on TfL's budgets, any solution would need to be funded through mobile operators with no cost to fare or taxpayers."

In time for the Olympics, priority would be placed on completing London's Central and Jubilee lines, which connect the center of London with the Olympic park.

In addition to the quick timeframe of the project, other challenges include the Underground system itself, which as the world's first has old infrastructure and is particularly deep. FT adds that contractors would have just a few hours each evening to work on the project, making the process of installing miniature cells in stations, tunnels and subway cars a tremendous challenge.

There's also a matter of security-not only in regard to the infrastructure, which FT says has "faced stringent tests" to make sure it doesn't overheat or malfunction, but on a national level, as has recently been an issue in the United States.

Huawei was originally founded by a former People's Liberation Army engineer, but denies suggestions that it is in any way tied to the Chinese military. Still, there's a lingering spirit of distrust toward the company, whether for suspected government ties or not. In 2003, Cisco accused it of stealing its router code, and in July 2010, Motorola filed a suit accusing Huawei of scheming to steal its trade secrets-allegations that Huawei said were entirely without merit.

On Feb. 18, Huawei announced that it would back out of its initiative to acquire patents from the U.S. technology company 3Leaf Systems-a move that was in keeping with recommendations from the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) and smiled on by the Obama administration, which was relieved of the uncomfortable situation of stepping in to stop the acquisitions.

"This was a difficult decision; however, we have decided to accept the recommendation of CFIUS to withdraw our application to acquire specific assets of 3Leaf," Huawei said in a statement, according to the Wall Street Journal. "The significant impact and attention that this transaction has caused were not what we intended."

FT added that Huawei again emphasized that it is a "100 percent privately held global company owned entirely by its employees and has no link with the Chinese government."

At the recent Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona, Spain, however, Huawei was just one of the dozens of manufacturers presenting new tablets. Its IDEOS S7 runs Android 2.2, features a 7-inch display, has a microSD slot and is competitively priced at $300.

In September, similarly aiming for a cost-conscious market, Huawei introduced four Android-running phones, including the IDEOS, calling it the "world's first affordable smartphone with Google." Depending on the market, the smartphone is priced at between $100 and $200.