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UK Government Delays Huawei 5G Decision

The UK government has further delayed its decision on whether to allow Huawei to supply key equipment for the country’s 5G networks, as it seeks to clarify Washington’s strategy.

The culture secretary, Jeremy Wright, claimed yesterday on announcing the Telecoms Supply Chain Review, that it would not be “sensible, helpful or responsible” to make a final decision yet.

In a statement, his department had the following:

“The government continues to consider its position relating to high risk vendors. Following action by the US Department of Commerce and uncertainty around the implications for the telecoms market as a whole from the entity listing, the government is further considering its position relating to high risk vendors. Decisions in this area will be made in due course.”

It may be waiting a long time for a coherent strategy from the US, given that Donald Trump seems to be wavering between the hard-line approach supported by Congress, and using Huawei as a bargaining chip in his ongoing trade war with China.

Most recently, his administration appeared to row back on tough sanctions which would prevent US companies from selling Huawei key components – a move which would have crippled the company. Instead, US firms will be allowed to sell parts that are generally available elsewhere.

At Infosecurity Europe this year, National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) boss Ciaran Martin, repeated the arguments used by himself and GCHQ over the past year: that Huawei possesses no intrinsic national security risk because it is a Chinese company.

He argued that the focus should be on building 5G networks that are secure whatever the supplier – something that the supply chain review focuses on with a new framework and series of requirements for telecoms players.

GCHQ experts have in the past raised serious concerns about the quality of security processes at Huawei, which could in themselves be a national security threat if exploited by third parties.

In April, it was revealed that Theresa May’s government had decided to allow Huawei to supply non-core parts of 5G networks. Her successor, Boris Johnson, will now be urged by all parties to make a swift decision.

Dmitry Kurbatov, CTO of security company Positive Technologies, claimed banning Huawei outright would lead to extra cost and delays.

“Huawei is already embedded so much in the 5G ecosystem, mainly because many mobile network operators have already purchased or ordered Huawei equipment,” he added.

“This issue can’t be solved with a solution as idealistically simple as just swapping it for an alternative vendor immediately. There is also the additional cost of delaying deployments, as companies had already tested 5G equipment, chosen Huawei, and were ready to buy. If Huawei is taken away as an option, this whole process – including testing – would have to be started all over again.”

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