Mobile Operators Demand Government Decision On Huawei

The frustration of British mobile operators over whether equipment from Huawei Technologies can be used in their 5G networks has spilled out into the open.

The BBC has seen a draft letter to Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill from the mobile operators, in which the operators urge the government to clarify its position over Huawei.

Operators have long been critical of any Huawei ban in the UK. Vodafone for example, alongside Three UK, have campaigned vigorously on Huawei’s behalf. Indeed, Vodafone has previously warned that banning Huawei equipment would cost the UK its 5G lead.

Operator frustration

The draft letter from the operators is to ask for an urgent meeting between industry leaders and the government to discuss their concerns.

Operators have apparently said that they can’t invest in infrastructure whilst British uncertainty over the use of technologies from Huawei continues.

The letter will apparently be dispatched to the Cabinet Secretary as soon as this week,

“The security and resilience of the UK’s telecoms networks is of paramount importance,” a government spokesperson was quoted as saying by the BBC. “We have robust procedures in place to manage risks to national security and are committed to the highest possible security standards.”

“The Telecoms Supply Chain Review will be announced in due course,” the government reportedly said. “We have been clear throughout the process that all network operators will need to comply with the government’s decision.”

In mid April it had been leaked to a British newspaper that the UK’s secretative National Security Council (NSC) had agreed to allow Huawei limited access to help build parts of the network such as antennas and other “non-core” infrastructure.

But that did not impress the UK’s closest ally, who has warned that Washington does not see a difference between core and non-core parts of a 5G network.

There has been intense lobbying efforts by the United States to pressure its allies to ban Huawei and other Chinese suppliers from participating in the build-out of 5G networks.

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo has previously warned allies that “America may not be able to operate in certain environments if there is Huawei technology adjacent to that”.

Huawei defence

Huawei for its part has always insisted that that it poses no security threat to any of its customers.

Huawei’s global cyber security and privacy officer John Suffolk defended the company’s security practices, when he appeared before British MPs this week.

Suffolk said Huawei is “independent,” and that it would not bow to pressure to supply information from its mobile networks to the Chinese government.

“No one can put us under pressure,” Suffolk reportedly said. “We’ve made it quite clear, regardless of who the country would be. If we were put under any pressure by any country that we felt was wrong, we would prefer to close the business.”

Suffolk also denied Huawei would be required (under Chinese law) to cooperate with the Chinese government.

“There are no laws in China that obligate us to work with the Chinese government on anything whatsoever,” he said.

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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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