UK mobile operators raise 5G concerns

June 12, 2019


United Kingdom mobile operators are to warn the British government that a ban on Chinese telecommunications company Huawei would jeopardize the UK's role as a leader on mobile connectivity.


Several operators reportedly plan to send a letter to Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill asking the government to urgently clarify whether it intends to allow Huawei to bid for 5G contracts in Britain, according to the BBC.


The UK has been under pressure from the United States to boycott Huawei due to security concerns. UK mobile operators have historically used a substantial amount of Huawei kit when updating network infrastructure.


In a draft of the letter, which was seen by the BBC, the operators expressed frustration that they have had to delay investment decisions while the government debates the Huawei question. The operators also reiterated that a Huawei ban would delay 5G rollout in the UK by up to two years and damage Britain's chances of becoming a world leader on future technologies.


A recent report commissioned by four of the nation's major mobile network companies – EE, O2, Three and Vodafone – claimed that delayed rollout of 5G technology could cost the UK economy between 4.5 billion pounds ($5.9 billion) and 6.8 billion pounds.


The government has been conducting a supply chain review for several months and was expected to reach a verdict on Huawei in late May, though no decision has been made public.


"The Telecoms Supply Chain Review will be announced in due course," a government spokesperson said in response to the BBC report. "We have been clear throughout the process that all network operators will need to comply with the government's decision. The security and resilience of the UK's telecoms networks is of paramount importance. We have robust procedures in place to manage risks to national security and are committed to the highest possible security standards."


Last month, The Telegraph reported that the UK government had decided to allow the use of Huawei kit, with various restrictions in place. The Telegraph received the information via a leak from a top-level security meeting. Gavin Williamson was fired from his position as UK defense secretary following an investigation into the leak.


Members of Parliament remain divided as to whether Huawei should be allowed to participate in 5G development.


Some are satisfied that the UK National Cyber Security Council has found no evidence to support the claim that Huawei is involved in acts of espionage.


Others are concerned that if the UK works with Huawei it will damage its relationship with other members of the so-called Five Eyes intelligence sharing community, which include the US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.


On Monday, Huawei's cybersecurity chief John Suffolk answered questions from a parliamentary select committee concerning the security of the company's equipment. The committee asked Suffolk if Huawei would resist any potential efforts by the Chinese government to have the company include spyware in its equipment.


He told the committee that Huawei had never been asked "to do anything untoward" by the Chinese government.


"There are no laws in China that obligate us to work with the Chinese government with anything whatsoever," Suffolk said.


"We stand naked in front of the world, but we would prefer to do that, because it enables us to improve our products. We want people to find things, whether they find one or one thousand, we don't care. We are not embarrassed by what people find."