Huawei may be allowed to supply “non-core” components for the UK’s 5G networks

Less than a month after the National Cyber Security Centre's technical director termed Huawei's engineering processes as "very, very shoddy", the UK government has reportedly approved the participation of Huawei in the development of "non-core" components of the country's future 5G networks.

Earlier this week, Reuters revealed that the UK "will block China’s Huawei Technologies from all core parts of the 5G network and access to non-core parts of it will be restricted", indicating that Britain will not, unlike the United States, Australia and New Zealand, outrightly ban Huawei from participating in the development of 5G networks.

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This is despite the fact that, as per its own admission, Huawei would need up to five years and up to $2 billion (£1.54 billion) in investments to "comprehensively improve" its software engineering capabilities and to resolve a set of security issues in equipment deployed in the UK that were highlighted by the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC).

"The company will initially invest US$2 billion over the next five years to comprehensively improve our software engineering capabilities. This will help ensure that our products are better prepared for a more complex security environment both now and in the future.

"This programme is part of a broader effort to redesign our Integrated Product Development process. Technology and networking environments are evolving. Customer and societal expectations for technology are evolving too, as are regulatory requirements. In recognition of these changes, we too are evolving our processes," said Ryan Ding, President of Huawei's Carrier Business Group in a letter addressed to the Commons Science and Technology Committee.

Huawei's equipment in the UK far from secure

According to Dr Ian Levy, technical director of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), Huawei has so far done very little to reassure the government that its promised transformation programme will bear fruit in the coming years.

"The security in Huawei is like nothing else - it's engineering like it's back in the year 2000 - it's very, very shoddy. We've seen nothing to give us any confidence that the transformation programme is going to do what they say it's going to do," he told BBC Panorama.

He added that if Huawei fails to deliver the best-in-class security in its products, then ministers could consider banning the use of Huawei-supplied communications equipment in government offices such as Westminster.

Even though Britain's decision to allow Huawei to participate in the development of "non-core" components of the country's future 5G networks is yet to be confirmed by government officials or ministers, if true, the decision will be consistent with BT's decision not to allow Huawei to supply core components for its 5G infrastructure.

"In 2016, following the acquisition of EE, we began a process to remove Huawei equipment from the core of our 3G and 4G mobile networks, as part of network architecture principles in place since 2006.

"We’re applying these same principles to our current RFP (request for proposal) for 5G core infrastructure. As a result, Huawei have not been included in vendor selection for our 5G core. Huawei remains an important equipment provider outside the core network and a valued innovation partner," the company announced in December.

Digital Minister Margot James recently tweeted that "in spite of Cabinet leaks to the contrary, final decision yet to be made on managing threats to telecoms infrastructure", indicating that Britain's decision to differ with the United States on Huawei is still in the works.

Britain's decision on Huawei could also be influenced by the fact that, according to The Times, CIA has been able to produce strong evidence to prove that China's People's Liberation Army has been actively and heavily investing in Huawei. So far, the foremost concern about Huawei's participation in foreign networks is that the company could be strong-armed by the Chinese government to hand over sensitive communications which could be invaluable for the country's intelligence-gathering activities.