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‘No technical grounds’ to ban Huawei says UK Parliament committee

Chair of the Science and Technology Committee in the UK, Norman Lamb, has stated there is not enough technical evidence to ban Huawei and is demanding a final decision by the end of August.

In a letter written to Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Lamb has demanded a conclusion to the Supply Chain Review which has staggered the progress of 5G networks in the UK. Many in the industry have become increasingly frustrated with the state of purgatory which has loomed over the UK telecoms industry, and now the influential Science and Technology Committee has had enough.

“Following my Committee’s recent evidence session, we have concluded that there are no technical grounds for excluding Huawei entirely from the UK’s 5G or other telecommunications networks,” said Lamb.

“The benefits of 5G are clear and the removal of Huawei from the current or future networks could cause significant delays. However, as outlined in the letter to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, we feel there may well be geopolitical or ethical considerations that the Government need to take into account when deciding whether they should use Huawei’s equipment.”

This is the interesting aspect of the letter to Wright. Lamb is effectively telling DCMS and the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) to hurry up and make a decision, but not to come to a conclusion too quickly as there are ethical and political considerations to account for. It’s a bit of a mixed message, but a deadline is perhaps overdue for this saga.

The message from Lamb is relatively simple; there are no technical grounds to ban Huawei. Quoting the NSCS’ assumption that 100% secure is impossible, suggesting a lack of concrete evidence against Huawei espionage, reasserting legal obligations placed on telcos to maintain security and pointing towards the international nature of supply chains nowadays are all points made by Lamb to suggest Huawei should be allowed to contribute to network infrastructure.

There are of course concessions make in the letter. Lamb is suggesting Huawei should be excluded from contributing to the network core, while there should also be a mechanism introduced to limit Huawei should it fail on-going competency tests and security assessments, but the message seems to be focused on the idea that Huawei is no more of a security threat than any other organization.

“Supply chains for telecommunications networks have been global and complex,” the letter states. “Many vendors use equipment that has been manufactured in China, so a ban on Huawei equipment would not remove potential Chinese influence from the supply chain.”

Another interesting point raised by Lamb is the legal obligation which has been placed on the telcos to ensure security. Communications infrastructure is a key component to today’s society, but the telcos are the ones who will suffer some of the greatest consequences for poor risk mitigation and due diligence. None of the telcos have raised concerns of an increased security risk from Huawei, and this should be taken as some of the most important evidence when considering the fate of the Chinese vendor.

Ultimately, this is action from the Government. It might kick-off some bickering between the parties (Lamb is a Liberal Democrat) and between departments, but finally someone is forcing DCMS and NSCS into a decision. It seems Lamb is not concerned about the distraction of a party leadership contest or Brexit, he simply wants an answer by the end of August.

Interestingly enough, this letter also forces DCMS into basing the outcome of the Supply Chain Review on politics. By stating there are no technical grounds for a ban, should Wright and his team want to exclude Huawei it will have to be done for another reason. Lamb has asked DCMS to consider the ethical and political weight of a decision, as well as the impact it might have on relationships with allies.

This is now a very difficult decision for DCMS. Lamb has seemingly taken technical considerations off the table; any ban would have to be political.

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