Chinese networking giant Huawei Technologies could be about to receive mixed news from the British government over supplying equipment for 5G networks in the UK.

It is reported that the Chinese firm will be able to supply non-core equipment such as antennas, but will be banned from the ‘core’ parts of 5G networks.

This compromise is unlikely to please the United States, which is seeking to get Huawei banned from the 5G networks of the “Five Eyes” intelligence sharing group. Earlier this week the CIA told the US and British government that Huawei allegedly accepted funds from Chinese military and intelligence agencies.

Partial ban

According to the Daily Telegraph, the UK’s National Security Council, which is chaired by the Prime Minister Theresa May, agreed on Tuesday to allow Huawei limited access to help build parts of the network such as antennas and other “non-core” infrastructure.

This is despite concerns reportedly raised by senior ministers such as Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, and International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt.

The PM hopes that excluding Huawei from all core parts of the 5G network, and only allowing restricted access to non-core parts, will be enough to please all sides.

The mobile industry in the UK has been keen to keep Huawei involved.

Three for example said last month that it was confident that equipment from Chinese networking giant Huawei does not pose a security threat.

Vodafone has also warned that banning Huawei would cost the UK its 5G lead, and would mean ripping out existing 4G gear at a cost of ‘hundreds of millions’ of pounds.

But not everyone is happy with the decision, and Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Tom Tugendhat is not a fan of the compromise.

What is core?

He tweeted that allowing Huawei to build some of the UK’s 5G infrastructure would “cause allies to doubt our ability to keep data secure and erode the trust essential to #FiveEyes cooperation”.

There’s a reason others have said no, he added.

And Tugendhat was also quoted by Reuters as saying it was very difficult to make a distinction between the core and non-core in 5G due to the way the network is built.

“It still raises concerns,” he told BBC Radio. “The definition of core and non-core is a very difficult one with 5G.

“(5G) does change from a faster internet system into an internet system that can genuinely connect everything, and therefore the distinction between non-core and core is much harder to make.”

Huawei ban

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 told allies that “America may not be able to operate in certain environments if there is Huawei technology adjacent to that”.

To date, only Australia and New Zealand have agreed to an outright ban, with other allies opting to monitor Chinese products to ensure they’re secure.

The US government has banned its agencies from using Huawei gear, and top educational institutions have ended deals with Chinese firms to avoid losing federal funding.

Earlier this month the technical director of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) criticised Huawei’s “very, very shoddy” security engineering and said this “poor engineering” could lead to the gear being banned from Westminster and other sensitive areas.

A British government report was also scathing about Huawei’s security failings. It was highly critical of Huawei, and expressed a lack of confidence in its ability to fix long-standing security flaws, some of which date back years.

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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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