Huawei To Be Given 5G Contracts In The UK

The British government looks ready to hand responsibility for parts of the new UK-wide 5G network to Huawei. Under proposals leaked this week, the Chinese tech giant will eligible to supply all “non-core” infrastructure related to the network.

The implementation of 5G is seen as key to keeping the UK at the forefront of economic development and Huawei has a proven track record of implementing the system in its native land. China and the US are currently neck and neck in the race to be the first country with nationwide coverage.

But in allowing a foreign entity access to national networks, especially one with a proven track record of using public networks for all manner of espionage, British Prime Ministre Theresa May has risked alienating key allies both home and abroad.The US, along with Australia, has already banned Huawei from having any access to their digital networks, fearing that it would be “handing China a loaded gun” with instant access to sensitive security information.

The US has made it clear that should these propositions go ahead, the effect on US-UK relations could be dire.

In February, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo laid it out in no uncertain terms saying “If a country adopts [Huawei] and puts it in some of their critical information systems, we won’t be able to work alongside them.”

“In some cases there’s a risk we won’t even be able to co-locate critical American resources, an American embassy, an American military outpost.”

On paper these fears have some weight, 5G networks rely on much smaller wavelengths that cover far less ground to transmit information.This means smaller aerials, just a few inches tall, that can be fitted into anything from lampposts to church steeples and all can communicate without direct human interference.

So, whoever gets the rights to a country’s 5G network theoretically has access to all the information being transmitted in private and public spaces.

In the Westminster Parliament, the proposal was met with widespread unrest amongst the Conservative government's own MPs. At Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday it was put to the Prime Minister's deputy, David Lidington, that Huawei was “intimately linked with the Chinese communist government and their deeply hostile intelligence services.” Lidington denied the accusation.

The case for the government’s defense lies in the term “non-core.” This means that, whilst Huawei develop and maintain the network, it will not be given access to sensitive information such as national security details or private banking details.
Therefore, the idea goes, Huawei would simply be contracted to supply equipment but not to monitor the inner workings of their network.

The British spy agency GCHQ has swiftly been enlisted to assess the risk Huawei poses and has backed the government’s stance that the company is not a puppet of the State. Its Director, Jeremy Fleming, said in a statement announcing close monitoring of 5G implantation that “The flag of origin of 5G equipment is important but is a secondary factor.”

One of the UK's principal international treaties is called Five Eyes, an intelligence alliance consisting of the US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK vital to maintaining Anglophone cyber security from attack and is at the forefront of developing 5G. 

Of these nations only Britain has not floated the idea of banning Huawei outright and, should they be allowed to operate on these shores it is likely that this relationship too could break down.

Should this happen, the UK will be left with one of the most dynamic and innovative telecommunication networks in the world, but no one to share it with.

By Jackson Mardon-Heath

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