Huawei will be used by UK in its 5G networks, but with restrictions, despite the firm being banned by its ally, US putting at risk the US-UK relation. Huawei has been banned from supplying kit to ‘sensitive parts’ of the network, known as the core, and will only be allowed to account for 35% of the kit in a network’s surrounding, which includes radio masts. However, it has been excluded from the vicinity of military bases and nuclear sites.
Boris Johnson is said to have spoken to Trump to explain the move, claiming that like-minded countries should work together to diversify the market and break the dominance of a few companies. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had previously lambasted the use of Huawei’s equipment, saying that it feared the risk of being spied on and added that they wouldn’t be able to share information with nations that put it into their ‘critical information systems’. He said, in light of the US-UK relation that Huawei is an ‘untrusted high-risk vendor’, because its Chinese ownership meant Beijing could in theory force it to carry out surveillance of Britons in the future.
There is no evidence of intentional security flaws in the company’s equipment, but an official British assessment said: “The Chinese state have carried out and will continue to carry out cyber-attacks against the UK and our interests.” Britain’s spy agencies have, however, argued that any risks from using Huawei can be contained and that US’ calls for a total ban on Huawei are disproportionate.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the UK-Huawei alliance won’t affect anything. The UK’s intelligence-sharing relationship between the two countries was too important to jeopardize in a row over a mobile phone technology. A document published by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) indicates that the UK’s networks will have 3 years to comply with the regulations on the use of Huawei’s equipment. Officials feared that banning Huawei altogether could have delayed the 5G rollout by 2-3 years, including the cost of consumers and harmed economic growth.
Huawei’s UK Chief Victor Zhang was quick to speak and said that the 5G rollout will give the UK access to a world-leading technology and ensure a competitive market. The company believes other countries will follow UK-Huawei alliance and permit the technology firm to supply high-speed next generation equipment neglecting the ban called for by the US.
Boris Johnson had earlier faced pressure from the US and some Conservative MPs to bar the Chinese tech giant on the grounds of national security. An official in Trump’s administration seeking anonymity has said that the US is ‘disappointed’ with the decision. This choice has been described as the biggest test of Boris Johnson’s post-Brexit strategy to date. Among the US bigwigs complaining were Senator Tom Cotton, Senator Mark Warner and Newt Gingrich, a former Speaker of the US House of Representatives. Senator Tom Cotton, through a tweet, said, “I fear London has freed itself from Brussels only to cede sovereignty to Beijing.”
Newt Gingrich, on the other hand, described it as a ‘strategic defeat’ for his country.
Huawei has for a long time denied claims that it would help the Chinese government attack one of its clients. The firm’s founder, in a bid to win back trust, has said he would rather ‘shut the company down’ than ‘aid any spying activities’. Three out of four of UK’s mobile networks had already made up their minds to use and deploy Huawei’s 5G products outside the core in the ‘periphery’. And the remaining two percent of them, that is, Vodafone and EE have to now reduce their dependence on the supplier, as approximately 60% of their existing radio access network equipment was made by Huawei. The regulation also applies to Huawei’s involvement in the roll-out of the full-fibre broadband, a sector in which Huawei currently has 45% of shares. BT has some of Huawei’s equipment in the core of its EE network, but is in the process of replacing it.
The government has also stated that the UK needs to ‘improve the diversity in the supply of equipment’ to the country’s telecom networks. Other than Huawei, the world’s four main providers are:
- Nokia – A Finnish Company
- Ericsson – A Swedish Company
- Samsung – A South Korean Company
- ZTE – A Chinese Company that is partly owned by the government
Presently, the UK is mostly dependent on Huawei, Nokia and Ericsson, forming a scenario that has caused the NCSC’s Technical Director Dr. Ian Levy to claim that the ‘market is broken’. In response, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has said, it will now support ‘the emergence of new, disruptive entrants to the supply chain’ and promote ‘the adoption of open, inter-operable standards’. However, the new rules still have to be debated and approved by MPs. It seems like UK has been able to get away with it this time, but only time will tell the outcome of this highly-opposed decision of UK 5G network being controlled by China.