UK MP lets rip on Huawei as US Senator wants to fund ‘alternative’

Tom Tugendhat, the MP for Tonbridge and Malling, has become on of the few UK politicians to publicly state an opinion on Huawei, condemning the firm though tweets and interviews.

While the Supply Chain Review to decide the future of Huawei in the UK has been a highly publicised saga, few UK politicians have stepped-forward to add their own thoughts to the debate. Tugendhat seems to be breaking rank, risking a feud with Prime Minister Boris Johnson with his thoughts.

“Allowing Huawei to run the UK’s 5G network is a staggeringly bad idea. Nesting a dragon in our central nervous system will cost us for decades and leave us hostage to a hostile state,” Tugendhat said on Twitter.

As the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee during the last Parliament, Tugendhat certainly is in an interesting position. He is an influential MP, though breaking the silence which has generally been upheld across the political arena, he might find retaining this prominent stance difficult. The statements made on Twitter, and also to Sky News, are somewhat contrary to the Prime Minister.

“Of course, you can individually guard every chicken, but isn’t it better not to let the fox into the hen house in the first place?” Tugendhat said.

This statement is directed toward the verification and validation work which is done by GCHQ in the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC). From Tugendhat’s perspective, the work to include Huawei’s equipment does not justify the outcome. There is some sanity to his thoughts, but the point of the HCSEC is to ensure telcos have access to be best technologies and an appropriate level of competition is maintained.

Tugendhat is one of the few taking to the soap box to weigh into the debate, though he does seem to be standing in opposition to Prime Minister Johnson.

“The British public deserve to have access to the best possible technology,” Johnson said on Tuesday (14 January). “If people oppose one brand or another, then they have to tell us what’s the alternative.”

Johnson does seem to be hinting he will side with Huawei and against the White House. The alternatives are few and far between, though the Democrat Senator for Virginia, Mark Warner, has introduced a new bill to Congress which could do so.

The Utilizing Strategic Allied (USA) Telecommunications Act, aims to provide $1 billion to create Western-based alternatives to Chinese equipment providers Huawei and ZTE. The idea has been raised before in the states, but an OpenRAN approach to network deployment would open-up the market to a flood of alternative, niche, solution providers. Or at least in theory.

“Every month that the U.S. does nothing, Huawei stands poised to become the cheapest, fastest, most ubiquitous global provider of 5G, while U.S. and Western companies and workers lose out on market share and jobs,” Warner said.

“It is imperative that Congress address the complex security and competitiveness challenges that Chinese-directed telecommunication companies pose.

“We need to move beyond observing the problem to providing alternatives for U.S. and foreign network operators.”

While this sounds like an attractive move for the ecosystem, realistically it is not an alternative for Huawei and ZTE.

The concept of OpenRAN is not new and it is only just gaining traction in the industry. Vodafone, MTN and Sprint are testing out new ideas, it is still not a viable, scaled alternative to the status quo. It would most likely take years of R&D to get OpenRAN to a point where it can be used as the foundation of a network.

Are the UK, Germany, Italy, Spain and the dozens of other countries who want to work with Huawei supposed to wait for this dream to become a reality? Warner’s idea sounds nice, but it is not an alternative because investments needs to be made today.

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