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UK says no to Huawei after all

Paul Brislen, Editor. 25 May 2020, 2:01 pm

The UK government has bowed to pressure to remove Huawei equipment from its 5G networks and will replace all Huawei kit by 2023, according to UK media reports.

The UK had been something of a holdout, declining to follow the US government's lead over the use of Huawei equipment. The US had threatened to block the sharing of sensitive information with the UK if the country began using telco equipment made by Chinese equipment manufacturer Huawei.

Initially at least the UK government was comfortable with its telcos using Huawei equipment but following US pressure and a revolt lead by backbench Conservative Party MPs, the government will review its earlier decision.

According to the UK's National Cyber Security Agency (NCSA), "Following the US announcement of additional sanctions against Huawei, the NCSC is looking carefully at any impact they could have on the UK's networks."

Huawei has long denied any involvement in spying, going so far as to establish a technology research centre in the UK that allows government agents access to the company's kit before it is released to the market. However, given the nature of 5G networks (where most of the smarts of the network are controlled at the edges rather than in the core), many national security agencies around the western world are recommending against allowing Huawei equipment to be deployed.

New Zealand's GCSB famously barred Spark from using Huawei equipment, forcing the company (a long-standing Huawei customer) to source equipment elsewhere. Vodafone New Zealand has used Nokia equipment for its mobile networks but the decision has forced competitor 2Degrees to also revisit its supplier arrangements and has potentially caused something of a roadblock in its own 5G deployment plans.

For the UK government, the decision to side with the US is likely to have also been influenced by its decision to exit the European Union and the need to sign free trade agreements quickly and with large, accessible markets. That the UK is also courting the People's Republic of China suggests the upcoming discussions are likely to be somewhat frosty.


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