The UK government has recently approved the supply of “non-core” equipment from Chinese telecommunications giant, Huawei, as part of Britain’s plans to launch a state-of-the-art 5G data network. Although Huawei’s involvement is still deemed limited in the grand scheme of the network, the decision of Prime Minister Theresa May has still courted controversy from the UK’s allies in America. The US government recently blocked Huawei from involvement in their own 5G data network due to recent national security concerns raised by the Americans, as well as the Australians and New Zealanders.
In fact, Australia was the first to implement a widespread ban on Huawei technology for its own 5G networks, and New Zealand followed suit shortly after. Fears among US politicians have spread like wildfire that sensitive information on everything from phone calls to counter-terrorist operations could be compromised by Chinese spies via Huawei’s supplied technology. Even as early as 2012, some of the leading American-based security stocks, specifically cybersecurity, severed ties with Huawei based on safety grounds. Symantec cut its alliance with Huawei as it feared their partnership would prevent it from obtaining US government classified information on emerging cyber threats.
At the end of 2018, Huawei was named the world’s number-one Internet of Things (IoT) platform vendor according to IHS Markit. The brand outperformed the likes of IBM, Amazon Web Services and Alibaba as having the necessary innovation and muscle to drive the development of cellular standards for an IoT industry that is set to have 100 billion connected devices around the world by 2025. The somewhat puzzling aspect of America and Australia excluding Huawei technology from its 5G networks is that all other available operators – Ericsson and Nokia – work with Huawei technology too. It’s clear to see that without Huawei, 5G connectivity would be something of a myth in North America and Europe.
In Germany, Jochen Homann, head of Germany’s federal network agency, said that “if Huawei were excluded from the [German] market, this would delay the rollout of the digital networks”. It seems likely that France and Belgium will follow suit with Germany and opt not to implement bans on Huawei technology. Other European nations such as Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands are yet to decide their stance and may be awaiting the fall-out of the UK and Germany’s decision to put its faith in Huawei equipment before making their own decisions.
Delays to a 5G data network across North America and Europe could have serious implications for the IoT industry, as application resources and consumer demands rise, with the potential for a congested 4G network amid the slow roll-out of 5G connectivity.
Beijing’s ambassador to London, Liu Xiaoming, has urged the UK to continue to put its faith in Huawei and avoid the “protectionism” views of allies such as America and Australia. Xiaoming pointed to Huawei’s “initiative to invest in a Cyber Security Evaluation Centre, which employs an all-British monitoring team”. However, given that a growing number of British MPs are imploring the government to rethink its decision, broader coverage and more stable 5G connections could yet be a long way off, putting the brakes on the UK’s smart device revolution.