Huawei or another way? The British government is expected to decide tomorrow whether to include the Chinese tech giant's kit in the core of the UK's 5G networks at a meeting with the National Security Council.
It is widely believed that prime minister Boris Johnson will continue to allow Huawei's equipment to be used on non-core elements of UK mobile networks.
This would include elements such as antennas and RAN equipment (radio access network), while restricting access to the more sensitive elements. Most 5G carriers use Huawei kit to some extent, including EE, Three and Vodafone. The sole exception is O2, which instead relies exclusively on kit from Western suppliers Nokia and Ericsson.
Any decision to ban Huawei in its entirety would have dramatic consequences for the three networks that are using its antennas. In July, a Vodafone representative told ZDNet that removing any Huawei-made infrastructure could cost the firm as much as £70m. It would also almost certainly delay its nationwide deployment of 5G technology – leaving O2 with a significant advantage.
Huawei's involvement in the construction of the UK's 5G network remains deeply controversial, and a major sticking point in Anglo-US relations. On Twitter, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described the decision faced by the National Security Council as "momentous" and suggested that anything short of a total ban would harm the UK's sovereignty.
The UK has a momentous decision ahead on 5G. British MP Tom Tugendhat gets it right: “The truth is that only nations able to protect their data will be sovereign.” https://t.co/8lLEUEUxdL— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) January 26, 2020
The US government regards Huawei as inextricably linked to the Chinese government and fears that Huawei's 5G infrastructure would serve as a backdoor to Beijing. It has also threatened to limit intelligence-sharing with the UK should Britain permit the use of Huawei's core network gear.
Andrew Parker, director-general of MI5, has rebuked such concerns, saying that he didn't feel that Huawei would significantly harm the transatlantic flow of intelligence, which has long been a cornerstone of the so-called "special relationship".
Last year the US government placed Huawei on an entity list, prohibiting US companies from doing business with the Chinese firm unless it received an exemption. This extends to the sharing of technology. Most visibly, this has forced Huawei to ship its latest handsets without Google's apps, massively hampering their consumer appeal in the West.
On the network front, the US Federal Communications Commission has mooted forcing rural carriers to remove Huawei's networking gear in order to continue receiving federal subsidies. These carriers serve small, often geographically distributed users, who have in some cases been deemed by the legacy carriers as uneconomically viable to support.
Although the UK government is expected to confirm any arrangement tomorrow, it may not announce it immediately.
The Register has asked Huawei and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport for comment. If we hear back, we'll let you know. ®