U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke called Sprint Nextel Corp. Chief Executive Officer Dan Hesse to express “deep concerns” that a Chinese company might win a contract to upgrade the mobile-phone carrier’s network.
Sprint this week awarded work to companies from Sweden, France and South Korea for the project worth as much as $5 billion to build a faster network. Huawei Technologies Co., China’s largest telecommunications equipment maker, was among the bidders.
“We wanted to learn more of their transaction and sit down with our intelligence folks and really understand what was possibly being contemplated,” Locke said today in an interview at Bloomberg’s Washington office. “I did make a phone call to Mr. Hesse to relay some very deep concerns from the defense sector and also even members of Congress.”
Sprint, the nation’s third-largest mobile-phone carrier, said yesterday it had selected Paris-based Alcatel-Lucent SA, Ericsson AB of Stockholm and Samsung Electronics Co., based in Suwon, South Korea, for the project.
Huawei, founded in 1988 by former Chinese army officer Ren Zhengfei, has struggled to expand in the U.S. after more than a decade as the government considers whether the company’s phone networks pose national-security risks. Members of Congress have written at least two letters this year expressing concern.
Locke said he called Hesse a day or two before The Wall Street Journal reported Sprint wouldn’t consider Huawei.
“We wanted to be able to have a conversation with the company to really understand what might be involved in the transaction and see if there were ways in which those concerns could be mitigated,” he said.
Huawei isn’t barred from the American market, and is selling equipment in the U.S., Locke said.
John Taylor, a Sprint spokesman, declined to comment.