The British government has once again deferred an already postponed decision - this time its about whether or not to ban Huawei equipment from 5G networks in the UK.
The non-announcement equates to further uncertainty for UK mobile network operators who have been demanding a decision since the first approval deadline was missed in March. Telcos are keen to get on with rolling out 5G kit, Huawei's gear looks like it's ideal for the job - and is already being used by some - so the lack of an outright ban will be encouraging.
Jeremy Wright, Secretary of State at the Department of Digital, Media, Culture and Sport (DMCS), told the House of Commons tonight: "The government is not yet in a position to decide what involvement Huawei should have in the provision of the UK's 5G network."
It's worth noting that the UK expects a new prime minister on Tuesday after the Conservatives elect a new leader for themselves... and by extension the British public.
His statement coincided with the publication of a DMCS report [PDF] on the nation's telecommuncations industry's supply chain. The summary is: more needs to be done to secure Britain's networks. The lack of supply diversity means too much trust is placed in too few vendors, and cyber-security is not always a priority. As the bureaucrats put it:
The lack of diversity across the telecoms supply chain creates the possibility of national dependence on single suppliers, which itself poses a range of risks to the security and resilience of UK telecoms networks. The dependency risk is most pronounced in the mobile and fixed access networks where supply is dominated by three global players – Huawei (the UK market leader), Ericsson and Nokia. There is a greater diversity of supply in core network functionality.
...and, in referring to this Huawei cybersecurity report,...
The business models of vendors do not always prioritise cyber security sufficiently. An extreme example of this can be seen in the conclusions of the 2019 Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC) Oversight Board report. The flaws identified in the report are the result of practices that may have achieved good commercial outcomes but have resulted in poor cyber security.
Wright said legislation would be brought before the House to strengthen the powers of Blighty's communications watchdog, Ofcom, to improve security of the UK's telecoms networks, as recommended by the DCMS supply chain probe. He wants the regulator to force operators to take a role in overseeing the security of the vendor products they use.
For the opposition, deputy Labour leader Tom Watson condemned the continuing muddle and accepted that recent US action added to the confusion but expressed concern that UK interest were being held hostage by US foreign policy.
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Uncle Sam's g-men, meanwhile, are supposed to be meeting Huawei and some of its key US suppliers later today to attempt the resolve its situation in the States. While President Trump initially claimed the Chinese manufacturer was a national security problem, he later said Huawei's future was a trade issue.
UK telcos have already begun building out networks based on Huawei hardware. Vodafone said a third of its radio network relied on the Chinese box builder's kit, and complained about the delayed approval. Three insisted that Huawei was ahead of the competition for 5G kit.
The UK's Science and Technology Committee of MPs could find no technical reason to ban Huawei and the Intelligence and Security Committee said removing Huawei would make networks less secure despite fears of Chinese government snooping.
Huawei sent us this statement about the Supply Chain Review:
"The findings are an important step forward for 5G and full fibre broadband networks in the UK and we welcome the Government’s commitment to "a diverse telecoms supply chain" and "new legislation to enforce stronger security requirements in the telecoms sector".
"The evidence shows excluding Huawei would cost the UK economy £7 billion and result in more expensive 5G networks, raising prices for anyone with a mobile device. On Friday, Parliament’s Intelligence & Security Committee said limiting the market to just two telecoms suppliers would reduce competition, resulting in less resilience and lower security standards. They also confirmed that Huawei’s inclusion in British networks would not affect the channels used for intelligence sharing.”
In less good news for Huawei, the Washington Post has reported that it has received documents showing the Chinese giant helped North Korea build a 3G network. If this included US or European technology, it would put the manufacturer in breach of sanctions.
Huawei told us it has "no business presence in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea". It added that Huawei is "fully committed to comply with all applicable laws and regulations in the countries and regions where we operate, including all export control and sanction laws and regulations of the UN, US, and EU." ®