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US politicians pressure AT&T to cut ties with China's Huawei in 5G development

U.S. political figures are reportedly escalating their pressure on AT&T to distance itself from Chinese companies, including work on 5G standards with Huawei.

Politicians have expressed national security concerns, two congressional aides told Reuters. Huawei has ties to the authoritarian Chinese government, and — in theory — its involvement in 5G could be used to make it easier for China to infiltrate foreign networks. At the same time the company is one of the world's biggest smartphone makers, making it difficult to ignore in the pursuit of global standards.

AT&T has refused to comment, beyond saying it has yet to make decisions on 5G equipment suppliers.

Earlier in January, AT&T put a halt to plans to offer Huawei phones after some members of Congress lobbied against the idea with regulators, according to Reuters sources. Politicans are also said to be agitating against Huawei phones being sold through AT&T's Cricket division, and calling on AT&T to oppose China Mobile entering the U.S. carrier market.

Two Republican representatives, Michael Conaway and Liz Cheney, introduced a bill earlier this week that would block the U.S. government from involvement with either Huawei or a fellow Chinese company, ZTE. AT&T does sell ZTE phones.

AT&T is expected to launch its first 5G service in 12 cities by the end of 2018. Sprint and T-Mobile should go live in 2019 and 2020.

In November rumors suggested that Apple is collaborating with Intel on a 5G modem for future iPhones, presumably as a way of distancing itself from legal adversary Qualcomm. Future iPhones might even build that modem into a system-on-chip, manufactured at Intel facilities.