MI5 boss plays down Huawei threat

Huawei has a near 35 per cent stake in the UK’s mobile telecommunications networks but the US is ramping up pressure on its allies to sever ties with the Chinese tech giant.
Huawei, UK, Security, US, 5G

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The head of the UK’s domestic security department, MI5, has played down the idea that the UK’s “special relationship” with the US could be jeopardised if the UK was to continue to use Huawei equipment in its 5G networks.  

The US has previously threatened the UK that it would withhold crucial security information and intelligence if it continued to use Huawei equipment in its next generation mobile networks.

However, in an interview with the Financial Times in London, MI5’s Director General, Sir Andrew Parker, said that he had “no reason to think” that the UK’s relationship with the US would be irreparably damaged, if it continued to do business with the world’s biggest 5G vendor.

“Perhaps the thing that needs more focus and more discussion is how do we get to a future where there’s a wider range of competition and a wider range of sovereign choices than defaulting to a yes or no about Chinese technology,” Sir Andrew said.

Britain launched 5G services in May 2019, with all four UK operators now having 5G offerings in the market. Huawei was an invaluable partner in all four launches, with EE, Vodafone, Three UK and O2 all using Huawei technology in their Radio Access Network.

Any decision to ban Huawei from the UK’s 5G ecosystem would have enormous financial ramifications for the country’s operators. Given that non-standalone 5G is built on top of existing 4G architecture, any decision to ban Huawei from 5G would mean operators were forced to strip out and replace Huawei components from their 4G networks at a cost of hundreds of millions of pounds.

“We are a private company which has supplied 3G, 4G and broadband equipment to the UK’s telecoms companies for 15 years. British experts are clear our technology does not pose a security risk. Two UK parliamentary committees concluded there is no technical reason to ban us from supplying 5G equipment. And now, Andrew Parker, the Head of MI5, says he has “no reason to think” that the UK’s intelligence-sharing relationship with the US would be hit if Britain continued to use Huawei technology. We’re confident the government will take a decision based on evidence – not unsubstantiated allegations,” a huawei spokesperson told CommsMEA. 

In his interview with the FT, Sir Andrew said that the UK’s member of the five eyes partnership (a security sharing initiative between the US, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada) remained extremely strong and important to the country.

“It is, of course, of great importance to us. And, I dare say, to the US too, though that’s for them to say. It is a two-way street.”

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