Ban Huawei in UK, Urges 'Influential' Think Tank

A new report by RUSI recommends excluding the Chinese vendor from the UK's 5G market while a government review is ongoing.

Iain Morris, International Editor

February 20, 2019

4 Min Read
Ban Huawei in UK, Urges 'Influential' Think Tank

Allowing Huawei to participate in the UK's 5G market would be "naïve" at best and "irresponsible" at worst, according to a new paper from the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a UK security think tank.

Author Charles Parton, who has previously advised the European Union on China affairs, said the history of Chinese cyber attacks shows Chinese authorities have typically relied on accessing information about other countries, and that 5G would make this easier if it underpins a future Internet of Things.

He also argues that putting hidden backdoors in network systems is more straightforward than finding them. In the battle between Chinese cyber attackers and the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre, a government facility set up to monitor the Chinese vendor, "the advantage and overwhelming resources lie with the former."

Parton goes on to say that Chinese staff "have no choice but to accede to requests from Chinese government departments" and that other members of the Five Eyes partnership -- a club of countries that share intelligence -- will be less inclined to cooperate with the UK in future if it continues to rely on Huawei.

Australia, New Zealand and the US, three Five Eyes members, have already taken steps to exclude Huawei from their 5G markets, while Canada and the UK are in the middle of reviews.

Seeking to minimize disruption for UK service providers building 5G networks, UK authorities may try to ban Huawei in the "core," a sensitive part of the network that includes important IT systems, while allowing its equipment to be used at 5G radio sites.

BT looks to be the only one of the UK's four mobile network operators that currently uses Huawei's core network products. Having acquired this equipment with its takeover of EE in 2016, BT is now removing it as part of a long-standing company policy not to use Chinese products in the core.

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Huawei has continued to dismiss reports that its products can be used by China's authorities to spy on other countries, pointing to the lack of conclusive evidence it has ever been involved in spying.

The RUSI report comes during a tense period in UK-Huawei relations, with the UK preparing to leave the European Union at the end of March and as US authorities exert pressure on international allies to ban Chinese suppliers.

During a visit to several countries in eastern Europe, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has urged local authorities to ban Huawei if they want to maintain a strong relationship with the US. A Huawei spokesperson says the comments have met with resistance in some countries.

But he also told Light Reading that RUSI is an "influential" think tank in the UK and that its report would not help the Chinese company's case.

As part of its charm offensive, Huawei this week told the BBC it will increase investment in the UK market if US authorities continue to view it with mistrust. Huawei provides radio access and fixed broadband equipment to BT and is also building a 5G radio access network with Three UK, the smallest of the country's mobile network operators.

The UK government is due to reach a final decision on whether to impose restrictions on Huawei in March or April, according to press reports.

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— Iain Morris, International Editor, Light Reading

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About the Author(s)

Iain Morris

International Editor, Light Reading

Iain Morris joined Light Reading as News Editor at the start of 2015 -- and we mean, right at the start. His friends and family were still singing Auld Lang Syne as Iain started sourcing New Year's Eve UK mobile network congestion statistics. Prior to boosting Light Reading's UK-based editorial team numbers (he is based in London, south of the river), Iain was a successful freelance writer and editor who had been covering the telecoms sector for the past 15 years. His work has appeared in publications including The Economist (classy!) and The Observer, besides a variety of trade and business journals. He was previously the lead telecoms analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit, and before that worked as a features editor at Telecommunications magazine. Iain started out in telecoms as an editor at consulting and market-research company Analysys (now Analysys Mason).

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