Huawei Decision A ‘Matter Of Urgency’ For Next PM

The next UK prime minister has to make a decision “as a matter of priority” about whether to include Huawei in 5G networks, an influential group of MPs has warned.

Either Jeremy Hunt or Boris Johnson have to make the decision urgently as the decision was already supposed to have been made, but has been delayed by Prime Minister Theresa May’s departure next week.

Earlier this week the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee said there were no technical grounds for a complete ban on the Chinese firm.

Decision time

But the US government has repeatedly warned against using any Huawei equipment on national security grounds.

Yet in April the UK’s National Security Council (NSC) had agreed to allow Huawei limited access to help build parts of the 5G network such as antennas and other “non-core” infrastructure.

Huawei has consistently denied it poses a national security risk, and in June the Chinese ambassador to the UK warned that excluding Huawei from Britain’s 5G network “sends a very bad signal” to other Chinese firms looking to invest in UK.

Into this mix has waded the House of Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) on Friday, which has urged either Hunt or Johnson to make a decision urgently, as the ongoing debate is damaging international relations.

“Such an important decision therefore requires careful consideration,” said the ISC. “However, the extent of the delay is now causing serious damage to our international relationships: a decision must be made as a matter of urgency.”

Security via diversity

And it repeated the advice from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), that the best way to ensure security is “by diversifying suppliers” to reduce over dependence on one particular supplier and increasing competition.

It said at the moment for 5G was that there were only three firms in the running – Huawei, Nokia and Ericsson. Over-dependence and less competition resulted in lower security standards, it said.

“Therefore including a third company – even if you may have some security concerns about them and will have to set a higher bar for security measures within the system – will, counter-intuitively, result in higher overall security,” the ISC said.

Huawei agreed that diversity was important in a statement emailed to Silicon UK.

“We agree that diversity improves resilience in networks,” said Victor Zhang, VP of Huawei. “We’ve been a part of UK networks for 18 years.”

“And we note the ISC says: ‘In the case of 5G there are only three potential suppliers to the UK – Nokia, Ericsson and Huawei. Limiting the field to just two, on the basis of the above arguments, would increase over-dependence and reduce competition, resulting in less resilience and lower security standards,” he added.

But the ISC also acknowledged in its report that the decision would not be based on technical merits, and the government had to take into account political concerns and so should not do anything to jeopardize the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance of the United States, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

“In terms of the immediate issue, restricting those companies who may be involved in our 5G network will have consequences: both in terms of time and cost,” said the ISC. “And the Government must weigh these, together with the security advice that any risk posed could be managed in a secure system, against the geostrategic issues outlined above.”

It should be noted that Huawei equipment is already in use in the UK’s existing 5G networks. Indeed, it is reported that all four of the UK’s largest wireless providers are all using Huawei to build their 5G networks.

So any decision to ban completely the Chinese firm will require the equipment to be retroactively removed from the networks built so far.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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