A final decision on the role Huawei can play in building Britain’s 5G mobile networks has been left to the new prime minister.
Culture secretary and digital minister Jeremy Wright said it would be wrong to make specific decisions on Huawei while the US position on the Chinese company remained unclear.
“These measures could have a potential impact on the future availability and reliability of Huawei’s products, together with other market impacts, and so are relevant considerations in determining Huawei’s involvement in the network,” he told the Commons.
Mr Wright said he had recently sought clarity on the “extent and implications” of recent US moves to block Huawei, referring to the decision earlier this year by the Trump administration to blacklist the Chinese company, before appearing to row back on that position, by agreeing to allow American companies to sell some parts to Huawei.
This meant the Government could not yet decide how much “involvement Huawei should have in the provision of the UK’s 5G network”, Mr Wright said.
However, he said it would be “unnecessary and unwise to delay the introduction of the remainder of the Telecoms Supply Chain Review’s Conclusions”, given 5G services will be launched this year.
The review, released on Monday night, set out plans to establish a new framework, requiring telecoms operators to assess and manage risks from their suppliers “appropriately” and providing Ofcom with more powers to ensure the security of the networks was robust.
It also encouraged phone networks to use multiple suppliers to build the backbones of their networks – a recommendation welcomed by security experts. Professor Alan Woodward of the University of Surrey said: “Having a single vendor would be bonkers.”
The decision on what to do about Huawei will be in the hands of the next prime minister, with Boris Johnson likely to be declared May’s successor when the winner of the Conservative party leadership contest is announced Tuesday.
“The future of our digital economy depends on trust in its safety and security,” Wright said.
“We need to have the right measures in place to make our telecoms supply chain both safe and secure.”
The government’s review said that new legislation would be implemented to “significantly strengthen” cybersecurity in the telecoms industry. He also said that the government would support diversification among equipment suppliers. The market is dominated by Huawei, Ericsson and Nokia.
“The lack of diversity across the telecoms supply chain creates the possibility of national dependence on single suppliers, which poses a range of risks to the security and resilience of UK telecoms networks,” Wright said.
Victor Zhang, Huawei’s vice-president, said:
“The UK Government’s supply chain review gives us confidence that we can continue to work with network operators to rollout 5G across the UK.”