Wednesday, 10 April 2019 11:00

Spark still undecided on fresh proposal to use Huawei gear Featured

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Spark still undecided on fresh proposal to use Huawei gear Pixabay

New Zealand telecommunications company Spark has still not decided whether to submit a revised proposal to the country's spy agency in order to see whether it can use equipment from Chinese vendor Huawei in its 5G network.

Spark Corporate Relations lead Andrew Pirie told iTWire in response to a query that the company was still working through what possible mitigations it might be able to provide to address the concerns raised by the General Communications Security Bureau, the country's main spy agency.

In November, the GSCB said it had refused Spark permission to use Huawei equipment in its 5G network. This came after the two companies had demonstrated the technical implementation of access and core separation for 5G.

But subsequently, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said on two separate occasions that this did not indicate a total ban on Huawei. She initially told a regular weekly news conference in February that Wellington would carry out its own risk-assessment to make a final decision on whether to use Huawei equipment or not.

That stance was reiterated by Ardern during a one-day visit to China this month, when she denied that her country had followed Australia in banning Huawei from participating in the 5G rollout.

For nearly two years, the US has been pushing countries it considers allies to avoid using equipment from Chinese companies, Huawei foremost, in 5G networks. But Washington has produced no proof to back up its claims that these products could be used to spy for China.

On Monday, the technical director of the UK National Cyber Security Centre, Dr Ian Levy, slammed Huawei for its engineering practices, which he characterised as "very, very shoddy".

He said this meant Huawei gear could be banned from Westminster and other sensitive parts of the country and kept out of the core of 5G networks in the rest of the UK.

Pirie told iTWire that under the relevant New Zealand laws, Spark had the opportunity to submit a revised proposal to the GSCB if it thought it could mitigate the security concerns that had been raised.

Those concerns have not been made public, with GCSB director-general Andrew Hampton saying in November last year that Spark's proposal would raise significant national security risks. No details were provided as to the nature of the risk.

"Hence it is technically true that the use of Huawei 5G equipment has not been completely ruled out at this point," Pirie said. "But as things stand right now, we cannot use Huawei."

He added that Spark was aware of the various reports and comments coming out of the UK, "but we have no comment to make on them".

Contacted for comment, a Huawei spokesperson said: "Huawei continues to support Spark as it works through the process with the government."

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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