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The US offers no alternative to Huawei’s 5G, says former security adviser

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It’s “extraordinary” that America does not have its own 5G tech to offer allies considering its strong opposition to Huawei, a former UK national security adviser has said.

Lord Ricketts made his comments following yesterday’s decision that “high-risk vendors” should be permitted to play a peripheral role in the UK’s 5G network.

Huawei will be allowed to provide equipment for no more than 35 per cent of the Radio Access Network (which comprises antennas, base stations and other peripheral parts of the infrastructure) while rivals will provide the security-critical core parts of the network. This will mean that Huawei should be unable to manipulate the data being transmitted.

Lord Ricketts argued there was “no risk-free solution” for 5G and said the West should be more coordinated in future when it comes to the next generation of mobile networks.

“Given many American commentators seem to see the slightest role for Huawei in our system as an existential threat, isn’t it quite extraordinary that the US don’t have their own 5G technology solution to offer to Western allies?” he asked.

“Perhaps one of the lessons of this is, there has been a market failure, and before we get to 6G the West ought to be much more coordinated in its approach, so we do have an entirely reliable basis in technology to go forward.

“In the meantime, this seems to me to be the right risk-managed solution for a diversified network, in the circumstances we find ourselves in.”

At present, barely any US companies manufacture 5G’s most critical components. Sweden’s Ericsson, Finland’s Nokia and China’s Huawei and ZTE, account for two-thirds of the global market for telecom equipment, according to analyst estimates.

Technology made by Huawei is also considerably cheaper than its non-Chinese counterparts and is even technologically superior in some areas thanks to surging R&D spending in comparison to its rivals.

The decision to allow Huawei into the UK’s 5G networks has been in defiance of US President Donald Trump who has warned that data-sharing agreements could be compromised.

Former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Campbell of Pittenweem warned that any failure of the US to share intelligence as a consequence may have “considerable implications for the safety and interests of this country”.

He added: “It is an entirely laudable ambition to extend broadband throughout the United Kingdom. But I hope very much that national security is not being sacrificed to that ambition.”

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has moved to calm fears of data sharing, saying that Huawei’s 5G involvement will not affect the UK’s ability to share “highly sensitive intelligence data” with key allies.

“I want to be absolutely clear that nothing in this review affects this country’s ability to share highly sensitive intelligence data over highly secure networks both within the UK and with our partners including the Five Eyes,” he said while making a statement to the Commons.

“GCHQ has categorically confirmed that how we construct our 5G and full-fibre public networks has nothing to do with how we share classified data.

“And the UK’s technical security experts have agreed that new controls on high-risk vendors are completely consistent with the UK’s security needs.”

Raab said that although risks “cannot be eliminated”, a new regulatory system would mitigate them.

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