The UK government has defied direct pressure from US President Donald Trump to approve a limited role for Chinese telecommunications equipment maker Huawei to participate as a supplier in Britain’s 5G network roll-out.
The technical rationale that underpins the decision – that the core and radio components of the 5G network can be separated for security purposes – is in direct contrast to the position of the Australian government.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Huawei would be allowed to participate in the nation’s 5G build for “non-sensitive” parts of the network, but with its involvement capped at 35 per cent.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the House of Commons overnight that the decision had been based on an extensive technical and security analysis undertaken by the signals agency GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre.
“We have looked at the issue of how to maintain network security and resilience over many months and in great technical detail,” Mr Raab told the Parliament. “We would never take decisions that threaten our national security or the security of our Five Eyes partners.”
“Thanks to [the GCHQ] analysis we have the most detailed study of what is needed to protect 5G, anywhere in the world,” he said.
“And it is also because of the work of the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre Oversight Board, established by NCSC, that we know more about Huawei, and the risks it poses, than any other country in the world.”
Mr Raab said that a new set of Telecommunications Security Requirements at the heart of the new regime would “raise the height of the security bar and set out tough new standards to be met in the design and operation of the UK’s telecoms networks.”
The new approach to “high risk vendors” marks a huge change in the UK’s approach to its telecommunications supply chain, and to its national security positioning.
“The future of our digital economy depends on having that trust in safety and security,” Mr Raab said. “And if we are to encourage the take-up of new technologies that will transform our lives for the better then we need to have the right measures in place. That is what this new framework will deliver.”
Huawei Australia has welcomed the UK government decision, saying it will give the UK the best opportunity to spur innovation in the digital economy and foster greater innovation.
In a statement issued early on Wednesday, the company said the UK had undertaken “a properly considered and fully evidence-based approach” to the decision, which means that the UK would continue to benefit from maximum competition between technology vendors which in turn would help deliver better networks, superior technology and lower prices.
Huawei Australia director of corporate and public affairs Jeremy Mitchell said the UK decision while taking a swipe at the “incorrect” advice that had informed the Australian Government ban on Huawei’s involvement in 5G in this country.
“This decision by the UK Government proves beyond doubt that there is a way to manage security on 5G networks without excluding vendors simply for being from a certain country,” Mr Mitchell said.
“It also demonstrates that the Turnbull Government was given incorrect advice that the Core and Radio networks cannot be separated on 5G – that is completely incorrect as the UK operators are now doing it in the real world,” he said.
“This decision has ensured that UK consumers will get access to the best 5G technology available in the global market and get access to it at affordable prices.”
“By comparison, here in Australia we will all be paying more for inferior 5G technology and millions will wait much longer to get 5G or miss out altogether – especially in rural and regional Australia.”