UK Government Warns Telecom Firms on Risks in 5G Rollout, in Letter Directed at Huawei

Company executives who received the letter said they perceived it to be pushing companies to not simply rely on Huawei, and use other 5G suppliers too.
UK Government Warns Telecom Firms on Risks in 5G Rollout, in Letter Directed at Huawei
A man uses his mobile phone outside a Huawei store in Beijing on Aug. 7, 2018. (Wang Zhao/AFP/Getty Images)
Annie Wu

The United Kingdom government is expressing concern about Chinese telecoms giant Huawei’s 5G rollout, even as the UK early on had embraced the use of company's wireless, internet, and mobile services.

Two officials at the National Cyber Security Centre, a government advisory body, and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, recently wrote letters to several UK telecom companies, warning them that their 5G supply chain could be affected by the results of a government review of the country’s telecom infrastructure that began in July, the Financial Times (FT) first reported on Nov. 5.

The “outcome of the review may lead to changes in the current rules,” the FT reported the letter as saying, and companies “will need to take the review into consideration in any procurement decisions.”

The letter didn't mention Huawei by name, but telecom company executives who received the letter said they perceived the government to be pushing companies to not simply rely on Huawei, and use other 5G suppliers as well, FT said.

On Nov. 6, The Wall Street Journal reported about a similar-sounding letter sent last month, “saying it would review whether the country was too reliant on a single hardware provider. The letter didn’t single out any specific company by name, but executives at businesses that received the letter said it was clear to them that Huawei was the target,” according to the report.

This suggests Huawei is under renewed scrutiny.

Unlike the United States and Australia, where concerns about Huawei’s ties to the Chinese regime and the potential risks for espionage have led their respective governments to effectively shut out the company, UK carriers have long used Huawei equipment and services.

With the company’s aggressive development of 5G mobile technology—backed by Beijing, it has sought to dominate the global market to become the primary provider of 5G network equipment and services.

In July, a report released by the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC) Oversight Board revealed that the company would indeed pose security risks. The board is an advisory panel set up by the UK government to monitor HCSEC, which itself was created and funded by Huawei, in order to address British government concerns about possible security threats to national infrastructure.

The report cited “repeated discovery of critical shortfalls ... in the Huawei engineering practices and processes that will cause long-term increased risk in the UK.” The oversight board concluded that it couldn't assure that threats to UK national security "have been sufficiently mitigated."

Since then, Huawei’s 5G ambitions have encountered roadblocks in other countries. Canadian officials and security experts have called for the government to stop the company from getting involved in the country’s 5G rollout. In South Korea, SK Telecom, the country’s largest mobile carrier, announced that it would not use Huawei’s equipment for its 5G Network. India’s government department in charge of telecoms also announced in September that it has excluded Huawei and ZTE, China’s other major telecom giant and Huawei’s chief competitor, from a list of partners for the country’s 5G development.

The latest letter is an indication that the UK government may also be wary of Huawei’s 5G advancement.

Annie Wu joined the full-time staff at the Epoch Times in July 2014. That year, she won a first-place award from the New York Press Association for best spot news coverage. She is a graduate of Barnard College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.