The UK is set to permit Huawei equipment in 5G networks in ‘limited role’

The UK is set to permit Huawei equipment in 5G networks in ‘limited role’
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British officials will reportedly greenlight the use of Huawei equipment in national 5G networks despite US-led concerns.

Reuters reports officials from senior government departments held a meeting on Wednesday and made the recommendation to allow the Chinese network vendor in a “limited role” in national 5G networks.

A complete ban on Huawei’s equipment would be a costly endeavour. Telecoms reported last year that all of the UK’s major operators have already begun deploying 5G equipment from Huawei. Operators would face costs associated with; removing the banned equipment, purchasing often more expensive alternatives, and installing the new equipment.

Such a process would not only be an expensive affair for operators, but also for the UK economy. The delay in 5G rollout would see the UK – which is, currently, a leader in European 5G deployments – fall behind. Businesses and consumers will not have access to the vast opportunities 5G unlocks across industries and investment will decline.

Andrew Stark, cybersecurity director at Red Mosquito, said:

“With Huawei kit already integral to the UK 3G and 4G networks, shifting to 5G with them offers the path of least resistance and increases chances of telecom companies meeting tight roll-out targets. There are currently only two other tech players capable of providing hardware for 5G, namely Nokia and Ericsson.”

Of course, national security must always be of foremost concern. British officials have always maintained that any decision on Huawei would be evidence-led.

The dedicated Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC) in Banbury offers annual reports on its findings regarding the use of the vendor’s equipment. HCSEC consistently reported it was able to offer assurance that risks posed by the use of Huawei's equipment could be mitigated, until 2018.

"Identification of shortcomings in Huawei's engineering processes have exposed new risks in the UK telecommunication networks and long-term challenges in mitigation and management," officials said in the report.

A follow-up report from HCSEC in March 2019 slammed Huawei as being slow to address concerns and claimed that “no material progress has been made by Huawei in the remediation of the issues.” Furthermore, HCSEC identified further technical issues which it said posed new risks to UK networks.

Conservative MP Bob Seely said "to all intents and purposes [Huawei] is part of the Chinese state" and involving the company would be "to allow China and its agencies access to our network.''

Officials from the US issued Downing Street with a dossier earlier this month with their assessment of the risks Huawei poses. The US maintains Huawei is controlled by Beijing, an allegation the company denies.

While not all security assessments are made public, for obvious reasons, it seems clear that British security officials are confident that any risks to national security through the use of Huawei’s telecoms equipment can be mitigated. As it stands today, it seems the UK will allow Huawei in parts of 5G networks that are not data-heavy.

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