Huawei’s 5G networks will be allowed to remain in the UK but with restrictions, despite pressure from the US to block the firm.
The Chinese firm will be banned from supplying kit to “sensitive parts” of the network core. In addition, it will only be allowed to account for 35 per cent of the kit in a network’s periphery, which includes radio masts. Also it will be excluded from areas near military bases and nuclear sites.
The decision was made at a meeting of the national security committee (NSC), which includes key ministers and intelligence officials.
“Huawei is reassured by the UK government’s confirmation that we can continue working with our customers to keep the 5G rollout on track,” the firm’s UK chief Victor Zhang said in a statement. “It gives the UK access to world-leading technology and ensures a competitive market.”
PM Boris Johnson had faced pressure from the US and some Conservative MPs to block the Chinese tech giant on the grounds of national security. But Beijing had warned the UK there could be “substantial” repercussions to other trade and investment plans had the company been banned outright.
Professor Mark Skilton, a digital communications and cyber security at Warwick Business School, said: “Cyber security experts at MI5 and GCHQ have always said they can manage Huawei if it is limited to ‘non-core’ network services, so this arrangement does not come as a surprise.
“The US government’s arguments that Huawei represents a major cyber and national security risk follow a blatant protectionist agenda, trying to obfuscate the fact that the US has lost the 5G race and seeking to damage Chinese markets.
“However, there are complex technical arguments mixed up with the politics. More advanced persistent threats (APTs) are emerging and the 5G network has a bigger attack surface, regardless who builds it.
“The real issue is that we need better cyber defence against the growing potential for national infrastructure attacks and better monitoring to prevent the misuse of the network and the wealth of data it creates.”
Matt Powell, Editor at comparison site Broadband Genie, suggested that the decision to allow Huawei to have limited involvement in 5G and full-fibre infrastructure comes down to time and money. “Banning the firm would have added additional delays and cost at a time when the UK economy faces serious challenges. It could also impact Boris Johnson’s pledge to deliver gigabit fibre to the nation by 2025.”But it makes little sense from a security perspective. If the government believes there is a legitimate security risk and does not trust Huawei to be involved in the ‘core’ of the network, it should not be trusted to supply ‘non-core’ components either.”