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Huawei saga continues as total ban on building UK 5G looks likely

Image credit: reuters

The UK is planning to remove all Huawei-made technology from its 5G network infrastructure and stop any future installation in the next six months, Whitehall sources have said.

The Sunday Telegraph reports that following the US decision to bar Huawei from using US silicon, GCHQ has revised its decision that the Chinese firm could be used safely in a limited capacity.

The change is based on concerns that the silicon ban could force Huawei to use “untrusted” technology of dubious origin, making the cybersecurity risk “impossible to control”.

Whitehall is also reportedly looking into the ramifications that the US move might have on Huawei-built technology in other infrastructure outside of 5G.

The decision is a drastic change from Boris Johnson’s announcement in January, following months of discussion, that the Chinese firm would be allowed to participate in the construction of “non-core” 5G infrastructure.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the National Security Council will look at the “conditions and make the right decision,” but said he wouldn’t comment on any leaks.

Culture minister Oliver Dowden said Britain’s decision to allow Huawei to play a limited role in building its 5G network is not “fixed in stone” and is being reviewed.

“If the US impose sanctions which they have done, we believe that could have a significant impact on the reliability of Huawei equipment and whether we can use it safely,” he said.

The impact is not limited to the UK as Huawei is one of just three major players globally with the necessary technology to implement 5G networks.

Yesterday, the head of the French cybersecurity agency ANSSI said that while there would not be a total ban on Huawei, it was pushing French telcos to avoid switching to them.

“What I can say is that there won’t be a total ban,” Guillaume Poupard told Les Echos newspaper in an interview. “(But) for operators that are not currently using Huawei, we are inciting them not to go for it.”

Like the UK, France is reportedly planning to keep Huawei out of its core mobile network, which carries higher surveillance risks because it processes sensitive information such as customers’ personal data.

France’s decision over Huawei equipment is crucial for two of the country’s four telecoms operators, Bouygues Telecom and SFR, as about half of their current mobile network is made by the Chinese group.

“For those that are already using Huawei, we are delivering authorisations for durations that vary between three and eight years,” Poupard said in the interview.

State-controlled Orange has already chosen Huawei’s European rivals Nokia and Ericsson.

Poupard said that from next week, operators that have not received an explicit authorisation to use Huawei equipment for the 5G network can consider a non-response after the legal deadline as a rejection of their requests.

Poupard said the choice was made to protect French independence, and not as an act of hostility towards China.

“This is not Huawei-bashing or anti-Chinese racism,” Poupard said. “All we’re saying is that the risk is not the same with European suppliers as with non-Europeans.”

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