Towards the end of last month, the British government announced that Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei would be allowed to participate in the creation of the UK’s fifth-generation broadband telecommunications network, despite strong lobbying from the US government to exclude Huawei.
However, for national security reasons, Huawei has been designated by the British as a ‘high risk’ vendor. This means it will be excluded from what the British government describes as sensitive, “core”, parts of the network. Consequently, Huawei will be excluded from all safety-related and safety-critical Critical National Infrastructure networks, from all critical security networks, and from sensitive locations, such as nuclear sites and military bases. It will also not be allowed more than a 35% share in the ‘access network’, which links mobile phone masts and devices and equipment.
“We want world-class connectivity as soon as possible, but this must not be at the expense of our national security,” stated UK Digital Secretary Baroness Morgan. “High-risk vendors have never been and never will be in our most sensitive networks.”
The British government undertook a Telecoms Supply Chain Review, which identified the extent and nature of risks that the country’s “critical digital infrastructure” was facing. The national security aspects of the review were undertaken by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), part of Government Communications Headquarters, which is Britain’s electronic, telecommunications and code-breaking intelligence and security agency. Located within the NCSC is the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre, which evaluates and reviews Huawei systems being used or introduced into the UK.
“Government has reviewed the supply chain for telecoms networks and concluded today it is necessary to have tight restrictions on the presence of high-risk vendors,” she explained. “This is a UK-specific solution for UK-specific reasons and the decision deals with the challenges we face right now. It not only paves the way for secure and resilient networks, with our sovereignty over data protected, but also builds on our strategy to develop a diversity of suppliers.”
“This package will ensure that the UK has a very strong, practical and technically sound framework for digital security in the years ahead,” assured NCSC CE Ciaran Martin. “The National Cyber Security Centre has issued advice to telecoms network operators to help with the industry roll-out of 5G and full fibre networks in line with government’s objectives.”
In an address to the House of Lords, Morgan affirmed that, as a result of the review, Britain was going to set up one of the strongest telecoms security regimes in the world. And the UK government would further act to encourage greater competition in the market. “Over time, our intention is for the market share of high-risk vendors to reduce as market diversification takes place,” she said.
Huawei has been participating in UK telecommunications networks for 15 years now. Had the UK banned Huawei form its planned 5G network, it would have been left with just two other options – Ericsson and Nokia. This would have undermined competition in the sector.
Despite the restrictions placed on his company, Huawei VP Victor Zhang has welcomed the decision. “Huawei is reassured by the UK government’s confirmation that we can continue working with our customers to keep the 5G roll-out on track,” he said in a statement. “This evidence-based decision will result in a more advanced, more secure and more cost-effective telecoms infrastructure that is fit for the future. It gives the UK access to world-leading technology and ensures a competitive market . . . We agree a diverse vendor market and fair competition are essential for network reliability and innovation, as well as ensuring consumers have access to the best possible technology.”
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor