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This announcement is about further delay – UK Gov on Huawei

The UK Government has made it clear the Supply Chain Review is about more than one company or one country, but the Huawei dilemma is the most important question; and there still is no answer.

Speaking in the House of Commons late Tuesday (22 July), Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Jeremy Wright updated the world on the progress of the Supply Chain Review. This Review has seemingly faltered progress towards the digital euphoria, and it appears this statement is nothing more than a delay with some vague promises on security updates.

“This announcement is about further delay,” Wright stated to the House of Commons.

DCMS has not made a decision on Huawei. There is still potential the firm might be banned, Wright stated this during the grilling from MPs.

Huawei’s fate is still far from certain and now the can has been kicked down the road, where even more unknowns are going to be presented. Who will be the new Prime Minister? What will his attitude be towards China? How cosy will he be with President Trump and the US? Who will be the senior politicians running each of the Departments next week?

Unfortunately for DCMS, this Review might well be bigger than one company or country, but it is unavoidable to think about anything else at the moment. Wright has made several other minor announcements on new security frameworks and requirements, policy and legislation updates and efforts to diversify the supply chain. These were all supposed to offer the telcos confidence, but realistically, nothing has changed.

Wright has announced the conclusions which have been drawn from the Supply Chain Review. Firstly, existing networks have been built with commercial attractiveness in mind not cybersecurity. Secondly, policies and legislation are woefully out-of-date. And finally, supply chains are too focused on single suppliers.

To right these wrongs, new security requirements will be placed on any vendor who wishes to contribute to UK communications infrastructure. Ofcom will be granted new powers to enforce new frameworks. There will be more oversight on procurement and Government will be given more opportunity to intervene if necessary. These requirements will be voluntary to start with but will be legislated for as soon as possible.

The message from Wright is that telcos can carry on working with any company it wants to, but without a concrete decision on the fate of Huawei, does this actually mean anything? No, it doesn’t.

Telcos want certainty to invest the billions required to make the 5G era a reality and this is anything but certainty. Scaling up network deployment aggressively still might turn out to be an expensive mistake. There are so few vendors in this segment of the telco ecosystem, the importance of this decision cannot be under-played.

However, there certainly were some welcomed points made during the announcement.

“Risk can transfer from place to place,” Wright commented with regard to enhanced security requirements being applied universally.

The new security framework and on-going assurance testing for equipment, systems and software will be applied to every supplier that wants to be incorporated into the UKs communications infrastructure. This is a refreshing approach, understanding the global nature of supply chains. There is a risk when working with any supplier as their own complex supply chains are vulnerable for intrusion.

Additional requirements will be placed on ‘high risk vendors’, though in escalating the security requirements across the entire ecosystem, the task of managing risk is much more comprehensive. This should, in theory, create a landscape which is much more resilient and secure.

However, you cannot escape the fact this announcement was little more than politely informing the community of another delay. The sense of purgatory will continue for months and the void of investment will be maintained. There have been some minor steps forward, but without a decision on Huawei, uncertainty remains. And uncertainty is one of the biggest enemies of the telco industry.

The UK created a fast-follower position in the 5G era but the inability of politicians to make a decision is simply dragging the UK bag to the chasing peloton of mediocrity.

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