Huawei to be given limited role in UK 5G deployment

Only 35% of the 5G and full-fibre market in the UK has been allocated to the Chinese network provider, and Huawei have also been banned from accessing military bases and nuclear sites.

Major operators in the UK have already been using equipment supplied by Huawei to deliver 5G to its customers, but BT have removed Huawei equipment previously used by EE from core, or sensitive, areas.

Non-core components include antennae and securable base stations.

In a statement on the UK’s decision to allow Huawei to have a limited influence in its 5G deployment, the company’s vice-president, Victor Zhang, said: “Huawei is reassured by the UK government’s confirmation that we can continue working with our customers to keep the 5G roll-out on track.

“This evidence-based decision will result in a more advanced, more secure and more cost-effective telecoms infrastructure that is fit for the future.

“We have supplied cutting-edge technology to telecoms operators in the UK for more than 15 years. We will build on this strong track record, supporting our customers as they invest in their 5G networks, boosting economic growth and helping the UK continue to compete globally.

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“We agree a diverse vendor market and fair competition are essential for network reliability and innovation, as well as ensuring consumers have access to the best possible technology.”

The matter of expenses

While the decision means that UK network operators can continue their 5G deployment plans, BearingPoint/Beyond CEO Angus Ward believes that more financial aspects are continuing to be forgotten.

“In my view, this news could take focus away from what should be the main focus of mobile operator boards,” he explained. “How well are they prepared to monetise their massive 5G investments, and how do they get a suitable return on investment?

“Significant questions around the economics of 5G remain. 5G networks are expensive. Rapidly available consumer-led services will bring substantial subscriber numbers, but they’ll fail to generate enough revenue by themselves to justify 5G’s expense.

“Indeed, I would expect to see a ‘re-run’ of the 4G experience – where operators build the networks and other companies extract the real value.”

A need for further risk assessment

Huawei has been marked as a ‘high-risk vendor’ by the UK government, and this could mean that operators that are rolling out 5G will need to go deeper with their risk assessments, according to Joseph Carson, chief security scientist at Thycotic.

“Irrespective of which vendors are chosen for the UK 5G network they should all be going through a serious Risk and Threat Assessment to determine how to deal with the future cyber-attacks and threats, so this should not be including only Huawei but all vendors must be treated equally,” said Carson.

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“In my opinion it is good to de-risk technology, so you are not solely dependent on a single point of failure. The use of Huawei will surely mean that encryption is going to be critical for maintaining confidentiality of communications, and as with all infrastructure designs there are usually configuration mistakes or design flaws that could mean sensitive data goes via Huawei equipment at some point in the future.

“The downside of this decision is, as we know from the previous assessment released on Huawei, they have poor cybersecurity practices and known vulnerabilities. However, they did commit to improving security by committing to invest $2 Billion.

“It does mean choosing Huawei will likely result in an increased operational cost to keep the systems patched, harden systems and configure correctly.”

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Aaron Hurst

Aaron Hurst is Information Age's senior reporter, providing news and features around the hottest trends across the tech industry.

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