South Korea’s national electric utility had use telecommunication modules made by a Chinese company for a million units of remote metering devices, TheElec has learned.
The use has raised criticism that China-made modules are being used for the network of sensitive electric data that is part of a country’s backbone infrastructure, at a time when US-led sanctions against Chinese telecommunication equipment and component had raised security concerns.
South Korean carrier SK Telecom had won the Advanced Metering Infrastructure project from the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO). SK Telecom had used modules made by Gaoan Communication of China for the Internet of Things (IoT) network of the remote metering devices.
South Korean module company NTmore had imported Gaoan’s modules and had it receive the electromagnetic compatibility certification required to be commercially used in South Korea. A NTmore spokesperson said the company optimized Gaoan’s modules for use in SK Telecom’s network. The module has Gaoan labeled as the manufacturer at NTmore as the seller.
The module is than supplied to Nuri Telecom, which assembles it to a remote metering device before supplying them to KEPCO. Telecommunication modules like those made by Gaoan must get network certification from telcos like SK Telecom. NTmore, Nuri Telecom and SK Telecom are all aware of the original manufacturer of the module.
A KEPCO spokesperson said the said remote metering device met its standard and was chosen from a fair auctioning process. It received the supply of modules that passed SK Telecom’s network certification and the National Intelligence Service’s (NIS) Korea Cryptographic Module Validation (KCMVP). The spokesperson said they need to check back to confirm whether the module in the device was made by a Chinese company.
A SK Telecom spokesperson said NTmore designed the modules while Gaoan merely contract produced them. SK Telecom had visited Gaoan’s factory in Shenzhen back in 2018.
However, a person familiar with the matter said NTmore could have added just some features over Gaoan’s hardware and firmware. This was more of a label swap than a contract production, they claimed.
SK Telecom is using Qualcomm chips for module for the Advanced Metering Infrastructure project. It previous used Altair brand chips but the network was recently changed to LTE M1. NTmore doesn’t have a Qualcomm license while Gaoan has one. The NTmore spokesperson said it checked with Qualcomm’s Korean office and confirmed that there was no problem bringing in a module that received the license from China into South Korea.
Nuri Telecom considered modules of AM Telecom, WooriNet, Telit and NTmore. Besides NTmore, all three other companies have license from Qualcomm. NTmore offered its modules at the cheapest price.
A person working at a local telecommunication module company said bringing in products that received Qualcomm’s license from abroad allows for price advantage to the company who does this. If security risk are ignored, more companies will bringing in China-made modules, they added.