Wednesday, 29 January 2020 09:23

UK gives Huawei limited role in 5G network rollouts Featured

UK gives Huawei limited role in 5G network rollouts Pixabay

The UK has announced that it will give Chinese telecommunications equipment vendor Huawei Technologies a limited role in the country's 5G networks, with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab telling the House of Commons that additional security measures would be put in place to ensure that risk was properly mitigated.

Huawei will be limited to providing 35% of equipment for non-core parts of the network, according to statements from the government.

Unlike Australia, which merely issued a media statement by two politicians, Treasurer Scott Morrison and Communications Minister Mitch Fifield, in August 2018, when it announced a ban on Huawei, the UK issued a long explanation from Ian Levy, technical director of the country's National Cyber Security Centre, along with the decision.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke to US President Donald Trump after the decision was announced, with a statement saying he had "underlined the importance of like-minded countries working together to diversify the market and break the dominance of a small number of companies".

"At the heart of the new regime, the NCSC’s new Telecoms Security Requirements guidance will provide clarity to industry on what is expected in terms of network security," Raab said on Tuesday.

"The TSRs will raise the height of the security bar and set out tough new standards to be met in the design and operation of the UK’s telecoms networks.

"The government intends to legislate at the earliest opportunity to introduce a new comprehensive telecoms security regime – to be overseen by the regulator, Ofcom, and government."

He said the conclusions of the Telecoms Supply Chain Review in relation to high-risk vendors took into account the following factors:

  • the strategic position or scale of the vendor in the UK network;
  • the strategic position or scale of the vendor in other telecoms networks, particularly if the vendor is new to the UK market;
  • the quality and transparency of the vendor’s engineering practices and cyber security controls;
  • the vendor’s resilience both in technical terms and in relation to the continuity of supply to UK operators;
  • the vendor’s domestic security laws in the jurisdiction where the vendor is based and the risk of external direction that conflicts with UK law;
  • the relationship between the vendor and the vendor’s domestic state apparatus; and
  • the availability of offensive cyber capability by that domestic state apparatus, or associated actors, that might be used to target UK interests.

Britain's decision was expected, especially after the government of the previous prime minister, Theresa May, decided to allow Huawei to supply equipment for non-core parts of the network in April last year. That decision was not announced publicly, but leaked to one newspaper. Three telcos have already rolled out 5G networks, and all have used Huawei gear in the non-core parts of the network in keeping with the interim decision.

The US has been pushing countries it considers allies to ban Huawei from their 5G networks in toto. Only Australia has done so and announced its decision, but a number of other countries like Japan, South Korea and Poland have indicated thy are also considering bans.

Levy said he had always focused on the need for evidence-based cyber security from the time the NCSC was set up, taking a scientific approach and being as transparent as possible about decisions that were made.

He said Tuesday's decision was not just about 5G, but also about full fibre and other gigabit-capable connectivity, and the future of the country's fixed and mobile networks.

Characterising Huawei as a high-risk vendor, Levy said there were three myths that needed to be dispelled: one, that 5G swapped hardware for software; two, that there was no distinction between core and edge in 5G; and three, mobile edge compute would be right at the edge of a "mature" 5G network and then the high-risk strategy would fail.

He said the third myth could be correct in some cases but wasn't so in the UK's case. "But what if we’re wrong? In the end it is a commercial decision where to put your MEC so there may be some super cool application that we’ve not thought of that needs MEC actually running in particular edge access sites.

"Well, that’s OK. The MEC is virtualisation and we’ve said the virtualisation can’t be provided by a high-risk vendor, both back in February 2019 and in the guidance today. So, whether we’re right or wrong on how far MEC goes towards the edge over time, the UK networks stay equivalently safe."

Expectedly, Huawei praised the decision taken by the UK, with the company's Australian branch saying, "This decision means that — in line with the publicly expressed wishes of Prime Minister Johnson — the British people will get access the world’s leading 5G technology that will help spur the UK’s digital economy and foster greater innovation."

Huawei Australia corporate affairs manager Jeremy Mitchell said the decision "proves beyond doubt that there is a way to manage security on 5G networks without excluding vendors simply for being from a certain country".

“It also demonstrates that the Turnbull Government was given incorrect advice that the core and radio networks cannot be separated on 5G – that is completely incorrect as the UK operators are now doing it in the real world."

Mitchell said the decision meant the UK would gain access to what he described as "the best 5G technology available". In Australia's case, he said, "we will all be paying more for inferior 5G technology and millions will wait much longer to get 5G or miss out altogether – especially in rural and regional Australia".


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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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