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14 January 2020

US says using Huawei in UK 5G networks would be “madness”

The UK is expected to decide whether or not to allow the Chinese firm to participate in the rollout of new, ultra-fast internet services by the end of this month.

By Rohan Banerjee

The use of Huawei technology in the United Kingdom’s 5G networks would be “nothing short of madness”, senior United States officials have reportedly warned British ministers.

Last year, the Chinese firm was placed on a trading blacklist by the Trump administration amid fears it could be forced to gather intelligence on behalf of the Chinese government. But the company, which sells smartphones and other telecommunications equipment, has repeatedly denied this allegation.

Nevertheless, the US has encouraged its allies, including the UK, to exclude Huawei from their planning for internet connections and services. A US delegation led by Deputy National Security Adviser Matt Pottinger met with members of Boris Johnson’s government in London on Monday to try and persuade them of the threat Huawei poses to national and international cyber security.

5G, the fifth generation of the technology used to deliver mobile internet, is being rolled out gradually in the UK. Some companies, such as EE, Three and Vodafone, have already part-launched 5G in select cities and towns, with targets in place for the whole of the UK to be 5G-ready by 2022.

The UK government is expected to make a decision on whether or not to allow Huawei to participate in the rollout of 5G networks by the end of this month.

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According to a leak last year, the National Security Council had been intending to allow the firm to operate in the non-core parts of the 5G network. This might include supplying base stations and masts.

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The US has previously suggested that the use of any Huawei products by an ally would lead to a review of its intelligence sharing policy.

But, ahead of the UK’s decision on this issue, the head of MI5, Andrew Parker, told the Financial Times that he had “no reason to think” that opting in favour of Huawei would harm transatlantic relations.

Boris Johnson, meanwhile, also appeared confident that the UK could still use Huawei technology for non-core components of new 5G services without weakening its partnership with the US. During an interview with BBC Breakfast on Tuesday, he said: “The British public deserve to have access to the best possible technology. We want to put in gigabit broadband for everybody. Now if people oppose one brand or another then they have to tell us what’s the alternative.”

Johnson added: “On the other hand, let’s be clear, I don’t want, as the UK prime minister, to put in any infrastructure that is going to prejudice our national security or our ability to cooperate with Five Eyes intelligence partners [the UK, Canada, the US, New Zealand and Australia].”