Ban Huawei from core of 5G networks, government told

But there are no technical grounds for a full ban on Huawei equipment in the UK's 5G networks, according to a committee of MPs.
Written by Steve Ranger, Global News Director

Huawei should not be allowed to provide equipment for the core of the UK's 5G networks, according to a committee of MPs, but they also said that there are no technical grounds for a complete ban on the Chinese company's involvement in the country's 5G network rollout.

While UK networks have been using equipment from Huawei for many years, in the last 18 months, the US in particular has become increasingly vocal about its concerns over the potential security risks involved with using Huawei equipment in the new 5G networks currently being rolled out.

It has argued that using Huawei equipment risks giving the Chinese state a backdoor into these critical networks, which could allow it to spy with ease. Huawei has denied that this would be possible, and the US has so far provided no evidence to back up its claims.

SEE: IT pro's guide to the evolution and impact of 5G technology (free PDF)

Nonetheless, the US has been putting pressure on its allies, including the UK, to stop using Huawei kit. The Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) is currently working on a supply chain review that will decide whether Huawei equipment should be used in UK 5G networks.

Now the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee has written to DCMS after its own evidence session when it heard from experts and Huawei itself.

"We have found no evidence from our work to suggest that the complete exclusion of Huawei from the UK's telecommunications network would, from a technical point of view, constitute a proportionate response to the security threat posed by foreign suppliers," the MPs said, and said the mobile network operators had a similar view.

"Subject to: restrictions on access to highly sensitive elements of the relevant networks; continued close scrutiny; and satisfactory improvements in Huawei's cyber security in response to the Huawei Cyber Security Centre's Oversight Broad - there are no technical grounds for excluding Huawei entirely from the UK's 5G or other telecommunications networks," the committee said.

However it said there "may well be geopolitical or ethical grounds for the government to decide to enact a ban on Huawei's equipment".

The MPs noted that because of the many vendors that use components manufactured in China, a ban on Huawei would not remove the potential for Chinese influence in the supply chain.

But it said Huawei should not be allowed to provide the equipment for the core – the brains which provide services like routing and billing – of the 5G network. While the UK's mobile companies have already said they will not use Huawei for the core, restricting Huawei to elements like the radio access network, the committee noted that this decision is voluntary.

"The government should mandate the exclusion of Huawei from the core of UK telecommunications networks," it said. But it should also make clear the grounds for the ban to provide clear criteria that could be applied to other companies in the future.

The committee also noted that the most recent report from the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre, a GCHQ-led organisation which monitors the security of Huawei kit used in the UK, warned that 'significant technical issues' have been identified in Huawei's engineering.

While the company has said it will spend $2bn over the next five years to fix this, the committee said Huawei "must improve the standards of its cybersecurity".

The MPs warned: "The government should monitor Huawei's response to the issues raised by the Huawei Cyber Security Centre's Oversight Board and be prepared to act to restrict the use of Huawei equipment if progress is unsatisfactory."

But it also said the government should consider creating a similar oversight system for other 5G vendors to ensure security.

Norman Lamb MP, chair of the Science and Technology Committee, said the government also needs to consider whether the use of Huawei's technology would jeopardise this country's ongoing co-operation with our major allies – as the US has consistently warned.

"Moreover, Huawei has been accused of supplying equipment in Western China that could be enabling serious human rights abuses. The evidence we heard during our evidence session did little to assure us that this is not the case," Lamb said.

Victor Zhang, senior vice president for Huawei, said: "We are reassured that the UK, unlike others, is taking an evidence-based approach to network security. Huawei complies with the laws and regulations in all the markets where we operate."

The committee also said the DCMS review should be published by the end of August as the delay to the review – first due out in the spring – is having an impact on the roll out of 5G in the UK.

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