Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei has embarrassed every UK phone company by offering to install wireless coverage on the London Underground system for free (where “free” means they get maintenance contracts forever, of course.) It took Mayor of London Boris Johnson to browbeat all our own communications companies into talking about working together to install part of the system in time for the Olympics, maybe. Now a foreign firm is saying “Oh, we could do that for you. No problem. We won’t even whine about how expensive the installation is, like your guys do, because it’s so incredibly obvious whoever builds it will make their money back.”
The most important part of this is that nobody doubts they could do it, only whether they should be allowed to do it. We would tell you to expect a storm of idiotically nationalistic indignation, except it’s already happened. Conservative MP Patrick Mercer never misses a chance to embarrass himself where technology is concerned (he previously complained that mobile phone coverage increases the chance of terrorist attacks), and he’s already wondering aloud “whether there is sense in using a Chinese firm to install a sensitive mobile network.” Because, you know, when World War III begins, a commuter’s ability to update Facebook about how much they hate commuting will be a lynchpin of national defence. It’s going to be hilarious when he realises where everything electrical already comes from.
It’s unlikely that Huawei’s offer will be taken up, but it’s brilliant advertising on their part, as well as horribly embarrassing for the companies who’ll have to construct it. Because now every delay (which will happen) and all the lines which won’t have coverage in time (most of them), will be something that wouldn’t have happened if we’d let someone else do it.