UK MPs find 'no technical grounds' to exclude Huawei from 5G networks

Plus: American biz bods could say yes way to Zhengfei... in '2 to 4 weeks'

The UK's Science and Technology Select Committee said it can't find any "technical grounds" for chopping Huawei out of the UK's 5G and other telco networks, but said government should consider "ethical" issues and its relationship with "allies".

The committee of Commons MPs wrote in a letter (PDF) to Minister of Fun* Jeremy Wright that Huawei's involvement in the 5G network posed no techie issues, excepting, of course, the not-so-minor point that if the country pulls the Chinese firm's kit from either its current or future networks, it could cause "significant delays".

BT's EE 3G and 4G networks, for example, still use Huawei equipment in the Enhanced Packet Core, although it told The Reg late last year the plan is to rip and replace kit in the network's core by the end of 2020. Both Vodafone and EE use Huawei's kit in the radio access network in their 5G deployments and Three said it will on its upcoming deployment.

The Science and Technology Select Committee's letter noted that UK network operators' "decision to exclude Huawei from the core of their future 5G networks is, however, voluntary. The government should mandate the exclusion of Huawei from the core of UK telecommunications networks," but explain why they'd done so.

It also suggested other vendors follow the model of the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation centre and let government bods have a sniff at their software.

Rt Hon Norman Lamb MP, Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, said:

Following my Committee's recent evidence session, we have concluded that there are no technical grounds for excluding Huawei entirely from the UK's 5G or other telecommunications networks.

The benefits of 5G are clear and the removal of Huawei from the current or future networks could cause significant delays.

However, as outlined in the letter to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, we feel there may well be geopolitical or ethical considerations that the Government need to take into account when deciding whether they should use Huawei's equipment.

The Government also needs to consider whether the use of Huawei's technology would jeopardise this country's ongoing co-operation with our major allies.

Moreover, Huawei has been accused of supplying equipment in Western China that could be enabling serious human rights abuses. The evidence we heard during our evidence session did little to assure us that this is not the case.

New inquiry

Meanwhile, the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy (JCNSS) this morning launched an inquiry into the government's "approach to sustaining access to 'safe' telecoms technology as a national security issue".

This comes as telcos continue to cry out for the delivery of the Telecoms Supply Chain Review, giving them some clarity on their own supply chains. The review had been due to land in the "spring", but is now scheduled for the end of August. Vodafone told us last month: "If the Telecoms Supply Chain Review says Huawei is OK, then great, but if it said we don't believe you should be using Huawei, we'd have to stop what we are doing and change our plans. As each month goes by, we are deploying more and more 5G. So ideally, it would be better to have it out sooner rather than later." Three has also told El Reg it would like to see a conclusion to the review sharpish.

The JCNSS also pointed to the "limited number of alternative suppliers" in the UK's telecoms infrastructure.

The body's chair, Margaret Beckett MP, said: "The government has found itself in a situation where it has just three viable options for suppliers of key equipment for the UK's 5G infrastructure.

"One of the questions for this inquiry is how Government can build a secure future for all of us which does not rely too closely on individual providers... We can't put all our eggs in one or two baskets – a resilient and secure network means spreading the risk across strong and solid foundations."

The committee will accept written submissions until the deadline 13 September 2019 and the whole thing will trundle on very, very slowly after that. The Committee will then move to hearing oral evidence and because they'll meet just once a month, the inquiry is likely to take some time.

Jobs, the entity list and the American Huawei

A senior US official has told Reuters the country may approve licences for companies to start new sales to Huawei – as soon as two to four weeks from now.

A Huawei spokesman told the newswire: "The Entity list restrictions should be removed altogether, rather than have temporary licenses applied for US vendors. Huawei has been found guilty of no relevant wrongdoing and represents no cybersecurity risk to any country, so the restrictions are unmerited."

Two "anonymous" chip makers that sell into Huawei said they'd apply for more licences after hearing commerce secretary Wilbur Ross say last week that licences would be issued where there was "no threat to national security". WD last month said it would seek export licences allowing it to ship kit to Huawei, should the Trump administration make them available. ®

* Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

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