British Government Approves Huawei For Limited 5G Role

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United Kingdom shrugs off persistent US pressure and allows Huawei a restricted 5G role after designating it a “high risk vendor”

The British government has today officially approved Huawei’s involvement in 5G networks in the United Kingdom.

However, it has designated Huawei as a “high risk vendor” and as such the Chinese firm will be excluded from core parts of the network including all safety critical networks.

Huawei will also be excluded from sensitive geographic locations such as nuclear sites and military bases; and have a 35 percent cap in periphery (non-sensitive parts) of the 5G network.

boris johnson mayor of London © landmarkmedia Shutterstock

British decision

The British decision is being closely watched both in Europe, as well as in the United States and other parts of the world.

Now the British have reached a decision on Huawei, it is expected that other European countries will follow the UK’s example.

The US has placed the UK and other allies under intense pressure to entirely ban Huawei from their networks on national security grounds.

But UK officials recently said they had found “no smoking gun” in the latest evidence presented by US officials who had flown to the UK in the past two weeks.

Huawei has long denied it poses a threat, and Andrew Parker, head of MI5, and GCHQ has previously told ministers any security risk from Huawei could be managed, as long as the company is not operating at the core of the network.

Restricted role

“The government has reviewed the supply chain for telecoms networks and concluded today it is necessary to have tight restrictions on the presence of high risk vendors,” Culture Secretary Baroness Morgan was quoted as saying by Sky News.

“This is a UK-specific solution for UK-specific reasons and the decision deals with the challenges we face right now,” she reportedly said.

“It not only paves the way for secure and resilient networks, with our sovereignty over data protected, but it also builds on our strategy to develop a diversity of suppliers,” said the Culture Secretary. “We can now move forward and seize the huge opportunities of 21st-century technology.”

The decision has been welcomed by Huawei in a statement sent to Silicon UK.

“Huawei is reassured by the UK government’s confirmation that we can continue working with our customers to keep the 5G roll-out on track,” Huawei vice president Victor Zhang told Silicon UK.

“This evidence-based decision will result in a more advanced, more secure and more cost-effective telecoms infrastructure that is fit for the future,” said Zhang. “It gives the UK access to world-leading technology and ensures a competitive market.”

“We have supplied cutting-edge technology to telecoms operators in the UK for more than 15 years,” he added. “We will build on this strong track record, supporting our customers as they invest in their 5G networks, boosting economic growth and helping the UK continue to compete globally.”

Long presence

Huawei has long had a presence in the UK and opted very early on to work with British officials to reassure them of any security risks.

The Chinese firm opened a UK Cyber Security Transparency Centre centre, in Banbury, way back 2010. That centre however was only given official clearance by the British government in late 2013.

Essentially these facilities designed to allow officials from governments, as well as different companies, to test Huawei’s source code, software and product solutions for any backdoors or other vulnerabilities.

And now British decision by Prime Minister Boris Johnson is remarkably similar to the decision taken in April 2019 by the UK’s National Security Council, which was chaired by the Prime Minister Theresa May.

That decision allowed Huawei limited access to help build parts of the network such as antennas and other “non-core” infrastructure.

Expert take

At least one telecoms expert has said the British decision was sensible.

“In spite of the persistent pressure from the US, it is not surprising that the UK has finally taken the decision to maintain Huawei technology as part of the nation’s 5G infrastructure – with certain restrictions,” said Jimmy Jones, telecoms cyber security expert at Positive Technologies.

“Huawei has been designated a ‘high risk’ vendor and as such will be excluded from ‘core’ parts of the network and limited to 35 percent access to non-sensitive parts of the network,” said Jones. “However, it will still participate in the infrastructure for 5G.”

“Whilst the US has taken a more hard-line stance, the reality is that a lot of the major UK operators (Vodafone, EE and Three) have already purchased Huawei’s 5G infrastructure which means a ban would have more impact in the UK than the US,” he said.

Indeed, three of the UK’s largest wireless providers (EE, Vodafone, and Three) are all using Huawei to build their 5G networks.

The only exception to this is O2, which instead opted to use 5G equipment from Ericsson and Nokia.

“If Huawei was taken away as an option, this whole process – including testing – would have to be started all over again,” said Jones. “Ultimately any country that does that is facing a more expensive network and a delay that could result in its national infrastructure being inferior compared to other countries.”

“Although it’s hard to ignore the geopolitical debates which continue to make headlines, it’s also important to recognise the commercial implications of shunning Huawei, which when compared to other suppliers, is way ahead,” said Jones.

“Huawei has been pioneering 5G dating back to 2009 and because of this development time, along with the sheer engineering resources that Huawei has put behind it, it makes it the best-placed supplier to deliver it,” he concluded. “Overall, the UK has taken the decision not to give its economy a technological and financial handicap against fast-developing nations who have already chosen to use Huawei.”

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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