Huawei 5G decision for UK still undecided, culture secretary admits
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Culture secretary Jeremy Wright has said the Government is still making up its mind as to whether to allow Huawei to make parts of the UK’s nascent 5G networks.
Wright’s comments come at a tumultuous time for Huawei, one of the largest and cheapest global infrastructure vendors capable of deploying 5G.
The Chinese firm was cleared for involvement in the UK last month, with the caveat that it cannot participate in the construction of “core” infrastructure for the network.
The US later declared that it would have to reassess data-sharing agreements with any countries that use the firm due to security implications, a stance that was reiterated by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on his current UK visit.
Giving evidence to MPs at the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, Wright said concerns raised about Huawei were less about the threat of espionage but because of engineering issues with the firm’s equipment.
These concerns echo similar comments made by GCHQ’s technical director who described Huawei’s engineering as “shoddy” and akin to something built “in the year 2000”.
Wright also warned some assumptions about Huawei and how embedded it was in some parts of existing networks were “wrong” and was not helping the debate.
Fears have been raised that Huawei could be used by the Chinese state as a route to spy on the West, with the US pressuring allies to distance themselves from the company.
However, Wright said Huawei was already the subject of stricter analysis than many other companies because of the “nature of Huawei and where it comes from”.
“There is already a substantial amount of Huawei equipment within the telecoms network, so we are not starting from a standing start,” he said.
“There is already Huawei equipment and that applies to the telecoms network more broadly, it does not apply to critical national infrastructure from which Huawei equipment has been excluded for some time.”
“It’s also right, and the committee knows this, that there is a method of managing Huawei equipment which does not exist for other suppliers.
“That’s the oversight mechanisms, the evaluation centre. It is there for us to engage with Huawei and make sure we are confident in the equipment that it supplies.”
Wright said a decision based on the Government’s review of not just Huawei but the security around UK telecoms in general would be made soon, but did not offer any timeframe.
“[The review] is important as things stand, but it becomes increasingly important as we move towards 5G,” he said.
“5G will enable us to do more things, more networks on more sensitive subjects and with more sensitive purposes, which make this even more crucial. So this is the time to do it.
“That review is complete, but the decisions that the Government needs to take on the back of it are not yet and - leaks notwithstanding - as and when we’re in a position to describe what we’ve decided to do and why we’ve decided to do it, then, of course, I will come to the House and make a statement in the normal way.”
He added: “Some of the assumptions that some people are making about how much Huawei equipment there is, how much there is in the core of the network, how much there is in critical national infrastructure and intelligence and security and defence networks, some of those assumptions are wrong.”