UK mobile carriers are working with Huawei to build 5G networks, despite security fears

UK mobile carriers are working with Huawei to build 5G networks, despite security fears
Digital sovereignty

The controversial Chinese tech giant Huawei is working with the UK’s four largest mobile carriers to develop the nation’s next-generation 5G cell networks, despite accusations from US officials that the company could pose a security threat, The Guardian reported Saturday

The move could spark tension between the UK and the US, which is taking a hard line against the company. US officials have warned that Huawei could serve as a proxy the Chinese government, allowing them to spy on other countries and companies. 

President Donald Trump has listed Huawei as a national security threat, and US intelligence agencies including the FBI, CIA, and NSA have warned citizens against using Huawei phones. US officials have also barred the use of Huawei equipment by the government, and the Justice Department has accused Huawei’s chief financial officer of violating sanctions against Iran. 

The US has also asked other nations not to use Huawei equipment in their national security infrastructure, and warned allies that doing so could limit their willingness to share classified data.

Huawei has denied the allegations and said the US has not produced any evidence that it has or ever would cooperate with China’s government to that end.

Huawei’s participation represents a gamble for the UK companies, since the government could still ban the Chinese firm from any involvement with 5G networks. Some senior UK officials share US concerns, and a government review clarifying whether Huawei can be involved in 5G infrastructure has faced delays, with ministers and officials split over restrictions the company. 

Vodafone, EE, O2, and Three are all working with Huawei on “non-core” components of their networks, sources told The Guardian, in accordance with limits the government is widely expected to impose. But they’re gambling that officials will opt against a stricter approach. 

Excluding Huawei entirely would delay 5G availability by up to two years, costing the economy up to £6.8 billion, according to the London-based analyst group Assembly.

Recently, Trump has backed down somewhat, saying US companies should be allowed to sell certain components to Huawei. And officials have yet to determine what equipment qualifies as “core” and “non-core” components, complicated by the fact that sensitive data will be accessed further from the core in 5G networks than in its predecessors. 

According to Assembly’s Matthew Howett:

“There is the whole debate about where the core and access network are delineated. But the reality is that the operators are all using Huawei to an extent – they are quite happy with it. The government has huge ambitions for what 5G can deliver to the economy, and a bad decision based on politics could seriously stop that from being a reality.”

Photo: CC0 via Wikimedia Commons