Huawei and other “high risk” telecom providers will be excluded from the core of the U.K.’s 5G and gigabit-capable networks, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has decided.
It’s a move that could influence Canada’s decision on whether to allow carriers here to buy 5G equipment from Huawei. However, that decision is complicated by the tense relations with China over the detention of two Canadians after Huawei’s chief financial officer was arrested on an extradition request by the United States. That extradition hearing is continuing.
Bell and Telus, which use Huawei equipment in their 4G access networks, are waiting for a decision from Ottawa.
A number of national security experts have warned Ottawa that allowing Canadian carriers to buy 5G equipment from Chinese manufacturers would be a security risk in part because of Chinese law that mandates companies there work with its intelligence agencies. Against that Huawei says the Canadian division isn’t subject to Chinese law.
At the same time IT security experts say any threat by Chinese telecom gear can be mitigated because governments already have to think about possible hacks of equipment from any manufacturer. But some also say in 5G there is no distinction between a core and the access network.
The U.S. and Australia have banned their carriers from buying 5G equipment from Chinese manufacturers.
Reuters quotes an unnamed U.S. official as saying the Trump administration is disappointed with the British decision.
In a statement, a Public Safety Canada spokesperson on Jan. 28 said: “We look forward to reviewing the details of the U.K. decision. In Canada, an examination of emerging 5G technology and the associated security and economic considerations is underway. We are taking all scientific and security factors into account, including those from our Allies and our security agencies. We will ensure that our networks are kept secure and will take the appropriate decisions in due course.”
In a decision released this morning, the government defied warnings from the United States that allowing U.K. carriers to buy any 5G equipment from Chinese manufacturers will be a security risk and a decision that could imperil its position in the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing co-operative. The U.S. has issued similar warnings to Canada.
In its statement — which doesn’t specifically mention Huawei — the U.K. government set out restrictions carriers must obey when purchasing equipment from what are deemed high-risk vendors. High-risk vendors are defined as those which pose greater security and resilience risks to U.K. telecoms networks.
High-risk vendors are excluded from sensitive ‘core’ parts of 5G and gigabit-capable networks, including safety-related and safety-critical networks in Critical National Infrastructure. They are also cut out of “sensitive geographic locations, such as nuclear sites and military bases.”
There is also now a 35 per cent cap on high-risk vendor access to the access parts of those networks, meaning pieces like cellular antennas. Legislation enforcing the decision will be introduced soon.
Meanwhile, the U.K. National Cyber Security Centre has issued guidance to carriers to implement the decision.
Huawei U.K. chief Victor Zhang issued a statement saying “Huawei is reassured by the U.K. government’s confirmation that we can continue working with our customers to keep the 5G rollout 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. It gives the U.K. access to world-leading technology and ensures a competitive market.”
Canadian telecom consultant Mark Goldberg told IT World Canada that “I hope Canadian officials complete a thorough review of the issues and reach a conclusion based on facts and evidence, free of political interference.”
John Strand, a U.K.-based telecom analyst said in a note that the British decision limits the amount that Huawei can sell in the U.K. It also means that U.K. operators will have to prioritize network upgrades in the Western part of the country where Huawei equipment is largely deployed.
“Overall, the U.K. policy will send a strong signal to the rest of Europe and the world that the use of Chinese equipment poses a security risk and should be limited,” wrote Strand. “The U.K. new policy is a step in the right direction, and it underscores the need for greater scrutiny of technology from firms owned and/or affiliated with the Chinese government.”
Dimitris Mavrakis, research director at tech market advisory firm ABI Research said the U.K. ruling “is extremely good news for Huawei.”
The firm is “thrilled” that the government took advice from security advisors, he said, and didn’t submit to “pressure-induced by geopolitical tactics … The decision is a good compromise between alleviating these ‘security’ concerns and making sure that the 5G U.K. market is not harmed.”