The big 5G decision: Huawei gets role in UK network roll-outs, despite US pressure

But 'high risk vendors' like Huawei are banned from core of 5G networks and limited to 35% cap in other areas, says government.

The UK government will allow Huawei to provide some equipment for the country's 5G networks – but the Chinese company will not be allowed to be involved with the sensitive 'core' parts of 5G networks.

The government also said there will be a new 35% cap on the use of equipment from what it terms as 'high risk vendors' – including Huawei – in non-sensitive parts of the network.

However, the decision falls far short of the total ban on the use of Huawei equipment in 5G networks that the US government, in particular, had been demanding. 

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The US government has long argued that the use of Huawei equipment in sensitive networks could leave countries at risk of being spied on by the Chinese state. Huawei has consistently denied that this could happen, and the US has not provided evidence to back up its claims.

"The restrictions and controls we detail in the high risk vendors framework give us a way of minimising the risk of using a high risk vendor like Huawei," said Ian Levy, technical director of the National Cyber Security Centre.

UK operators should also put in place additional safeguards and exclude high risk vendors from parts of the telecoms network that are critical to security, the government said. It defines high risk vendors as those that pose greater security and resilience risks to UK telecoms networks. 

The UK's National Security Council, chaired by the Prime Minister, said that high risk vendors should be excluded from:

  • All safety related and safety critical networks in Critical National Infrastructure
  • Security critical 'core' functions; the sensitive part of the network 
  • Sensitive geographic locations, such as nuclear sites and military bases

It also said that these suppliers should be limited to a minority presence of no more than 35% in the periphery of the network, known as the access network, which connects devices and equipment to mobile phone masts.

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"The government is certain that these measures, taken together, will allow us to mitigate the potential risk posed by the supply chain and to combat the range of threats, whether cyber criminals, or state-sponsored attacks," it said.

Victor Zhang, vice-president at Huawei, said: "Huawei is reassured by the UK government's confirmation that we can continue working with our customers to keep the 5G roll-out on track. This evidence-based decision will result in a more advanced, more secure and more cost-effective telecoms infrastructure that is fit for the future. It gives the UK access to world-leading technology and ensures a competitive market."