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Huawei cleared to build the UK’s 5G networks with catch

Image credit: reuters

Huawei has finally been given the go-ahead to build the UK’s 5G network following a raft of concerns over the company’s links to the Chinese Government.

According to the Daily Telegraph, the decision was made during a National Security Council (NSC) meeting and the firm’s involvement would be limited to building “non-core” infrastructure such as antennas.

As one of the largest infrastructure vendors, Huawei is a difficult company to avoid for many mobile operators and Vodafone, EE and Three have already been working with it on preparing their 5G offerings.

The announcement comes after the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) determined in February that there was “minimal” risk in deploying the Chinese firm’s equipment. 

But Tom Tugendhat, the chairman of Britain’s Foreign Affairs Committee, said it was very difficult to make a distinction between the core and non-core in 5G due to the way the network is built.

“It still raises concerns,” he told BBC Radio. “The definition of core and non-core is a very difficult one with 5G.

“(5G) does change from a faster internet system into an internet system that can genuinely connect everything, and therefore the distinction between non-core and core is much harder to make.”

Ministers including home secretary Sajid Javid, foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, defence secretary Gavin Williamson, international trade secretary Liam Fox and international development secretary Penny Mordaunt were also said to have raised concerns about the decision, according to the Telegraph.

Downing Street refused to comment on the report. A spokeswoman said: “We don’t comment on NSC discussions.”

MI6 chief Alex Younger has said Britain needs to decide how “comfortable” it is in allowing Chinese firms to become involved, while the head of GCHQ, Jeremy Fleming, has spoken of both “opportunities and threats” which they present.

Some critics have expressed concerns that the Chinese government could require the firm to install technological ‘back doors’ to enable it spy on or disable Britain’s communications network.

In addition to potentially nefarious actions taken by the company, the NCSC recently determined that it might enact a ban on Huawei equipment in Westminster and other sensitive areas due to the firm’s “shoddy” cybersecurity practices and poor quality engineering.

A Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport spokeswoman said the security and resilience of the UK’s telecoms networks is of “paramount importance”.

“As part of our plans to provide world class digital connectivity, including 5G, we have conducted a review of the supply chain to ensure a diverse and secure supply base, now and into the future,” the spokeswoman said.

“This is a thorough review into a complex area and will report with its conclusions in due course.”

A Barclays report has found that 5G could benefit UK businesses to the tune of £15.7bn annually if it is rolled out optimally in a speedy manner.

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