US pressure forces UK government rethink about the Huawei situation

On the opening morning of the 5G World 2019 event in London, the UK Secretary for DCMS Jeremy Wright revealed the Huawei situation has been complicated by events in the US.

Wright’s keynote address didn’t initially address any specific companies, focusing instead on some fairly scripted stuff about the importance of 5G to the future of the UK. “As a government we see 5G as a great opportunity,” said the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

He did make the announcement that his department has just started a consultation on reforms to the planning process to make it easier to roll out 5G infrastructure, including fibre, and revealed the Ministry of Defence recently freed up a bunch of 8 GHz spectrum. He also announced £40 million was being spent on a ‘5G testbed’ initiative designed to explore productive ways to use 5G.

Wright concluded his talk by emphasising the importance of security in the nascent 5G network, reflecting that the UK’s security framework needs to be significantly strengthened. He was clearly skirting around the specific matter of Huawei but it took further prompting from the host of the keynotes, Light Reading Editor Ray Le Maistre, for him to cut to the chase, sort of.

The government review currently underway is not specific to any company or even country, Wright was keen to stress. But referring to “the company everyone has in mind,” without actually naming Huawei, he said some recent complications, especially from the US, have made the decision about what to do with respect to Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s 5G network, even more difficult.

Reading between the lines, Wright seemed to be leaving the door open for a tougher government line on Huawei than had been implied by the leak from a few weeks ago, which indicated the UK would try to plot a middle course in which Huawei would be involved to a limited extent. The complications referred to probably mean the ramping of political and intelligence pressure from the US and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the UK eventually do what it’s told with respect to Huawei.

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