Should the UK let a Chinese company provide national critical communications infrastructure? Mark Ryan, Professor of Computer Security at the University of Birmingham, examines the issues raised by the current Huawei debate for The Birmingham Brief.
5G is the upcoming fifth-generation of mobile internet connectivity, designed to support a hyper-connected world of fast-speed and low-latency communications, in which our houses, factories, power stations, operating theatres, vehicles and everything else is capable of being remotely controlled.
Huawei has a year of R&D advantage over the rest of the world in this technology, and they are poised to supply the hardware and software to make 5G work throughout the world. But a vexed question has arisen: should the UK let a Chinese company provide national critical communications infrastructure? China and the West have a documented history of spying on each other, and China has laws which some have claimed can mandate its companies to help their country’s intelligence operations.
This question has a significant political aspect. The strong stance against Huawei in the USA may be based on commercial considerations as much as security ones. After all, Huawei has recently overtaken Apple to become the Number 2 mobile phone producer in the world after Samsung, and is likely to become Number 1 next year. In contrast with the USA, European countries including the UK has taken a much softer approach. Experts have emphasised the need to base the decision on facts, and primarily technical ones. Politicians appear to have decided that Huawei 5G equipment will be welcomed in UK mobile networks, except in a relatively small but imprecisely defined “core” that is deemed to be particularly sensitive. The UK may be taking a softer stance partly because, in the context of Brexit, we can’t afford to turn our backs on international trade. But our emphasis on basing the decision on technical facts makes good sense.
Read The Birmingham Brief article in full: Interoperability is the solution to the Huawei dilemma