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Huawei Execs Butt Heads Over UK Limits

The Chinese vendor's European and cybersecurity chiefs have had a public disagreement over reports that the UK will restrict Huawei's access to its service providers.

Iain Morris

March 5, 2019

4 Min Read
Huawei Execs Butt Heads Over UK Limits

Two of Huawei's most senior executives have publicly clashed over reports of UK government plans to restrict the Chinese equipment maker to just 50% of any service provider's network.

Quizzed about the possible move during a press briefing in Brussels earlier today, John Suffolk, Huawei's cybersecurity boss, described it as a case of "simple risk management" to prevent the country from being overly dependent on one supplier for critical infrastructure.

"The UK model on critical infrastructure has always been a multi-vendor approach," he said. "What's advised, whether it's 50% or 60% or some other percent, we fully agree people have to manage risk and it is something that has been there for a great amount of time."

But Vincent Pang, who heads up Huawei's business across western Europe, interjected with a less charitable view. "We will work hard with the UK government… to really solve the challenges," he said. "After that, we expect the commercial decisions to go to people who can buy or use the network, rather than limiting numbers, because this will damage free trade and free competition and free choice of end user."

The remarks followed mainstream press reports that UK authorities may stop the country's operators from being too reliant on Huawei without excluding it from any specific part of the network.

Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Taiwan and the US have all restricted Huawei's activities to at least some extent because of concern about the security of its products.

US opponents of the company, who have been lobbying European governments to ban it, say they are worried that China could use rogue software in Huawei's products to spy on other countries. Under Chinese law, Huawei would have to assist the Chinese government if ordered to do so, they argue.

Vincent told reporters in Brussels that Ren Zhengfei, Huawei's founder, has said he would rather shut down the business than collude in spying.

As a member of "Five Eyes," a club of Western countries that share intelligence, the UK may be under more pressure than other European nations to get tough on Huawei. Five Eyes also includes Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US, of which all but Canada have now moved to restrict Huawei.

Canada recently began extradition proceedings for Meng Wanzhou, Huawei's chief financial officer, who is wanted in the US on charges of fraud.

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The UK is due to make a final decision about Huawei shortly after it exits the European Union, when it may be on the lookout for new trade partners in both North America and Asia.

Its review into the Chinese vendor comes after the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre, a facility that allows UK security agencies to access Huawei's technology, flagged vulnerabilities in source code that goes into Huawei products.

Partly in response to those findings, Huawei has promised to spend $2 billion to improve its engineering capabilities, but it will need three to five years to address security requirements, it has said.

While any plans for a 50% restriction on Huawei have not been confirmed by the UK government, the scheme may be difficult to implement and monitor. How authorities would measure Huawei's precise level of participation in a specific network remains unclear.

Even so, as things stand, such a ruling seems unlikely to cause much disruption for the UK's four mobile network operators. BT, the UK incumbent, uses both Huawei and Finland's Nokia for its radio access network (RAN), and is stripping Huawei out of other areas. Three UK is building a 5G RAN with Huawei but has relied on Nokia and Samsung for its 3G and 4G kit and turned to Nokia for the core of its network.

Both Vodafone and Telefónica UK, which trades under the O2 brand, are even less dependent on Huawei.

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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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