Britain Will Limit, Not Ban Huawei from Its 5G Network

Posted on January 28, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Cloud with 12 Comments

Britain announced today that it will not ban Huawei or other “high-risk vendors” from its 5G wireless network, though it will exclude the firms from sensitive “core” parts of the network. The move comes despite over a year of intense lobbying by the United States government, which has been trying to discredit and ban Huawei to give US technology firms an unfair advantage.

“The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) carried out a technical and security analysis that offers the most detailed assessment in the world of what is needed to protect the UK’s digital infrastructure,” the announcement notes. “The guidance sets out the practical steps operators should take to implement the government’s decision on how to best mitigate the risks of high-risk vendors in 5G and gigabit-capable networks.”

That guidance, available on the NCSC website, recommends that the UK exclude so-called “high-risk vendors”—mostly Chinese technology firms—from its critical national infrastructure, critical ‘core’ functions (the most sensitive parts of the network), sensitive geographic locations including nuclear sites and military bases, and be limited to “a minority presence of no more than 35 percent in the periphery of the network, known as the access network, which connect devices and equipment to mobile phone masts.”

According to the NCSC, “Huawei has always been considered higher risk by the UK government and a risk mitigation strategy has been in place since they first began to supply into the UK.” But the biggest problem with Huawei isn’t that it’s Chinese, as in the U.S, but it’s the company’s products have always had quality and reliability issues. It feels that Huawei provides “low” cybersecurity and engineering quality and finds that its processes are “opaque.”

While this is a “UK-specific solution for UK-specific reasons,” as the report notes, it does impact other countries as well since the UK is part of the “five eyes” intelligence-sharing group that also includes Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States. The NCSC notes that Huawei’s US ban—it’s on the US Entity List—could “impact the future availability and reliability of Huawei’s products” in the UK.

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Comments (12)

12 responses to “Britain Will Limit, Not Ban Huawei from Its 5G Network”

  1. wright_is

    And that is the difference. The NCSC conclude the kit is cheap and buggy, but okay for non-critical parts of networks (much like Cisco then, apart from the cheap bit).

    The NSA cries wolf, yet again, and expects the world to pay attention.

  2. t-b.c

    The reason the US avoids Huawei isn't because it's electronics are unreliable, but because it is run by the former head of the MSS (the Chinese intelligence service, like our CIA). The belief is that Huawei will build back doors into their switches and routers and monitoring gear on cell phones. Would you want their gear installed on our battle cruisers and military bases, knowing that it could possibly be compromised by America's greatest threat, China? I'm not for every conspiracy theory, but sometimes a little paranoia is a good thing.

    • wright_is

      In reply to t-b.c:

      And this is the exact same fear that we have about US kit, apart from the fact that it has been proven to happen, in the case of US kit - HP kit being intercepted by the NSA en-route to customers in allied nations and receiving the NSA special sauce, or Cisco spending the last 2 years removing one backdoor after another, as they are discovered.

    • Paul Thurrott

      In reply to t-b.c:

      The belief. Not the proof. And no one is talking about using Huawei in US military rollouts, for starters.

      Let's see what this kind of viewpoint looks like from the other side. Amazon pay zero taxes. Is there a "belief" that it would act on the part of the US government to do harm to a foreign government? There should be. Given this, why would any company or country use AWS?

      • t-b.c

        In reply to paul-thurrott: Good point. It's completely valid to put the shoe on the other foot. Only (to my knowledge) Jeff Bezos never headed the CIA. And yes, I wouldn't blame other countries avoiding US products for the same reason. I mean, I'm an American and even I would avoid buying tech from John Brennan!

        • wright_is

          In reply to t-b.c:
          Jeff Bezos never headed the CIA

          No, but Amazon is based in America and is therefore bound by the FISA court and National Security Letters, so even if they were spying for the government, they couldn't complain or inform anyone.

        • Paul Thurrott

          Point is, Big Tech in every country has governmental ties and receives benefits from the home country.
          • t-b.c

            In reply to paul-thurrott: Sure, I agree, and I'm not trying to be argumentative or trying to get the last word I'm simply pointing out that Huawei is banned because of the one thing that makes it different from every Chinese company that isn't banned, that their top spy is running the company. While every tech company may have ties to their respective governments, I don't know of any other that can make that claim.And, if pushed, I would also point out that the Chinese government owns the large Chinese companies -- at least in part -- which is very different than any Western nation. Would I ban Huawei if I were in charge? I'm not certain, but I understand the case for the ban.

  3. bob_shutts

    I don't know. Yes, the U.S. can sometimes be a little jingoistic. (*cough*) And yes, Paul and Mr. Wright make good points. But honestly, if I had to be spied upon, I'd rather it be by my own country and not a foreign actor. So much of our infrastructure is now totally dependent on the "net" that (IMO) some caution is called for.

    What about the concept of limiting Hauwei to “a minority presence of no more than 35 percent in the periphery of the network, known as the access network, which connect devices and equipment to mobile phone masts"? Can this even work? I have no expertise in cyber security, but is it even possible to prevent a foreign entity from, by various means, using the "periphery of the network" hack into the sensitive stuff?

    OK gang, pile on. LOL

  4. jules_wombat

    Thankfully a rationale decision by my government, not to fall into cheap unfounded hysteria by the US. No credible evidence of security flaws, excepting some poor quality code. I rathe trust my own GCHQ cyber experts on the risks than US politicians. I suspect its down to envy, and realisation that Chinese technology will be overtaking US technology over the next decades. Despite the best efforts of European Nokia and Ericcson to keep up on the 5G front.

  5. ponsaelius

    A lot of this is about timing. UK telecoms companies have said they are already using Chinese kit and a ban puts 5G into a more distant roll out at least two years. The UK Government, recently elected, made great play about high speed broadband. Its not going to kick it into the future. Even for Donald Trump.

    • PeterC

      In reply to ponsaelius:

      Yup. It’s all playing politics and political click bait. Networks the world over are and have always been, chock a block full of buggy, compromised and just plain rubbish kit from US, Chinese, Israeli, Nordic and other suppliers. Everyone’s fighting over backdoor access... nothing new and yet it gets sooooo much coverage. Totally tedious in my opinion. Let’s face it, if the US had invested as much in 5g kit as heavily and intensely as the Chinese did we’d all be using and installing US kit. They didn’t, the Chinese did and here we are.

  6. melinau

    A complex issue, with several factors in play: technical, political & security.

    Technically Huawei's kit is probably a bit more advanced than other vendors', and a deal cheaper. US vested interests cry "foul" claiming there are huge subsidies from CPC, enabling Huawei to gain market share. As always USA lobby forgets the huge hidden subsidies to all tech firms through various US Agencies.

    Politically the Johnson regime needs to distance itself from Trump. A large portion of the British Public believes a desperate Johnson will cave-in to Trump over Trade - he desperately needs a deal to justify his Brexit stance. By appearing to ignore USA's advice over Huawei he is indicating he will "stand up" to Trump in those negotiations too. In other words it's window dressing.

    Security-wise it's highly likely that buying from Huawei is a big risk. Notwithstanding that 80% of Huawei's shares are owned by citizens, 90% of its big decisions are probably taken by senior Party members andor Red Army. That being said, if MI6 or the Army uses commercial network infrastructure for its comms it will get compromised, come what may.

    Ordinary citizens like me are already having our privacy & personal data hacked by the likes of Google & Facebook for profit, and GCHQ & NSA because they can. If Xi Jinping really wants to look at pictures of my grandson on my 'phone, he's welcome.

    In my opinion a bit of a non-issue really except inasmuch as it diverts attention for the far more serious issues affecting the World & our security.