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The UK may allow Huawei to get involved in its 5G after all

China and UK puzzles from flags, 3D rendering

The UK government is said to have agreed to let Chinese telecom kit maker Huawei join the building of non-core parts of the country’s 5G network.

The Telegraph reported that the country’s highest security decision-making body, the National Security Council, chaired by the Prime Minister, has agreed to open the “non-core” parts of 5G to Huawei’s equipment, for example antennae. The report said the Prime Minister was in favour of the decision, despite concerns raised by her Home, Foreign, Defence, International Trade, and International Development secretaries.

The government replied to media queries by claiming “we have conducted an evidence-based review of the supply chain to ensure a diverse and secure supply base, now and into the future. This is a thorough review into a complex area and will report with its conclusions in due course,” reported Reuters. The spokesperson also insisted that decisions by the National Security Council were confidential.

Huawei, while waiting for a formal announcement, looked to be confident that the decision would go its way. It told that media that it was “pleased that the UK is continuing to take an evidence-based approach to its work, and we will continue to work cooperatively with the government, and the industry,” quoted by the BBC. Earlier the media reported a decision on Huawei would be made in the spring, and the company’s market share would capped at 50%.

Views from the country’s other related offices are split. Earlier the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), which oversees Huawei’s work in the UK, was said to believe the risks posed Huawei could be managed. When questioned on the new rumoured decision, Ciaran Martin, the chief executive of NCSC, told the media that he was “confident ministers will reach a decision that will provide for the safer 5G networks that we need.” He also highlighted the “more fundamental risks” from sovereign states like Russia and North Korea as well as the sophisticated attacks by cyber criminals.

Tom Tugenthat MP, chairman of the Commons’ Foreign Affairs Committee, on the other hand, was not so sure. He tweeted “There’s a reason others have said no” referring to the US, Australia, and New Zealand. The other two countries of the “Five Eye” intelligence alliance, Canada and the UK are yet to make decision on whether Huawei will be allowed to build their 5G networks. “It is unwise to co-operate in an area of critical national infrastructure with a state can at best be described as not always friendly,” Tugenthat said. The alliance will hold a meeting on security in Glasgow, Scotland.

One point Tugenthat highlighted but has evaded the others is the virtualisation nature of 5G. He stressed it by pointing out that 5G is highly software defined (in his words, “internet system that can genuinely connect everything”), and it will be very hard to insulate the non-core from the core.

 

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