UK confirms limited Huawei role in 5G networks

Written by Hannah McGrath
28/01/2020

The UK government has confirmed that Chinese telecoms firm Huawei will be allowed to play a limited role in the UK’s 5G network.

Following months of speculation, the government said that a review of the supply chain for telecoms networks exposed the need for restricted access to core and critical parts of the network, but will push ahead with plans for Huawei to supply hardware to periphery parts of the 5G network.

The prime minister’s decision defies warnings from high profile security allies including the US, with US secretary of state Mike Pompeo warning this week that allowing Huawei access could have “momentous” consequences for national security as well as future co-operation with the UK’s major ally.

A number of European countries, including Germany and France, are still weighing up their options on Huawei involvement in 5G networks amid allegations that the company’s equipment could be used as a backdoor for spying by the Chinese state. Huawei has repeatedly denied the claims.

In arriving at the decision, the government has received reassurances from UK security agencies including the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and Whitehall officials.

The agreement, finalised in a meeting of the National Security Council this morning, agreed that the NCSC would issue guidance to UK Telecoms operators on high risk vendors.

This advice is that high risk vendors including Huawei should be:

• Excluded from all safety related and safety critical networks in Critical National Infrastructure.
• Excluded from security critical ‘core’ functions, the sensitive part of the network.
• Excluded from sensitive geographic locations, such as nuclear sites and military bases.
• Limited to a minority presence of no more than 35 per cent in the periphery of the network, known as the access network, which connect devices and equipment to mobile phone masts.

Culture secretary Nicky Morgan said the decision marks a major change in the UK’s approach that will “substantially improve the security and resilience of our critical telecoms networks”, adding: “We want world-class connectivity as soon as possible but this must not be at the expense of our national security – high risk vendors never have been and never will be in our most sensitive networks.”

She added: “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. We can now move forward and seize the huge opportunities of 21st century technology.”

The decision concludes the Telecoms Supply Chain Review, first published in July 2019. The review, led by the NCSC, was a comprehensive, evidence-based review, designed to ensure the security and resilience of the UK’s networks.

Ciaran Martin, the chief executive of the NCSC, said: “This package will ensure that the UK has a very strong, practical and technically sound framework for digital security in the years ahead.”

Victor Zhang, vice president at Huawei, commented: “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, this evidence-based decision will result in a more advanced, more secure and more cost-effective telecoms infrastructure that is fit for the future.

“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,” he continued. “We agree a diverse vendor market and fair competition are essential for network reliability and innovation, as well as ensuring consumers have access to the best possible technology.”