Two UK government figures are said to have written to the country's network operators urging them to exercise caution when choosing 5G equipment suppliers and warning that new regulations may come into effect following an ongoing review of telecom infrastructure that started in July.
The letter, seen by the UK's Financial Times newspaper (subscription required), was written by Matthew Gould, the head of digital policy at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and Ciaran Martin, the head of the National Cyber Security Centre, and said the purpose of the review was to ensure the UK's "critical national infrastructure remains resilient and secure" and that its outcome "may lead to changes in the current rules," according to the FT story.
The review and letter are said to reflect concern about the role of China's Huawei, which has already been shut out of the US and Australian markets on grounds of national security. Unnamed telco executives appear to have told the FT that UK authorities may try to ban Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. from selling 5G products and services to the country's operators, with implications for companies that have relied heavily on the Chinese vendor. (See US Senators Urge Canada to Ban Huawei – Report, Huawei, ZTE Charm Offensive Just Got Harder and Australia Excludes Huawei, ZTE From 5G Rollouts.)
Commenting on the letter, Matthew Howett, an analyst with Assembly Research, is quoted by the FT as saying: "I doubt we would have seen this if it was Nokia or Ericsson," in a reference to the European 5G vendors that are Huawei's main rivals.
The DCMS is understood to have played down concern it is targeting Huawei or Chinese suppliers in its review. A spokesperson provided the following statement to Light Reading: "The Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review set out our long-term plans to provide world-class digital connectivity through full fiber connectivity and 5G mobile coverage. As part of this, we are conducting a review of the supply chain underpinning these ambitions to ensure a healthy, diverse and secure supply chain base, now and into the future."
Paolo Pescatore, the senior vice president of consumer services at MIDiA Research, said the review had arguably come too late because UK operators have already announced 5G trials and chosen network partners.
"Yes, this does seem to be directed at Huawei, but in reality telcos have few options when choosing a network provider due to consolidation," he told Light Reading. "Other nations have shown concerns around security so it is something that should be carefully considered. Despite this, Huawei has so far proved to be a credible partner for telcos around the world."
The FT report comes several months after the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC), which was set up in 2010 to monitor Huawei and report back to UK government authorities, raised security concerns about the vendor. In a statement in July, HCSEC said it could provide "only limited assurance that all risks to UK national security from Huawei's involvement in the UK's critical networks have been sufficiently mitigated." (See Huawei Poses Security Threat, Says UK Watchdog.)
— Iain Morris, International Editor, Light Reading