Huawei has become associated with the dangers of China’s state-backed model when it comes to 5G.
Australia, New Zealand and the United States have already moved to block the telecom giant from their super-fast networks.
The United Kingdom was expected to become another key player of the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance, which also includes Canada, to curb, or even ban, the Chinese group from its planned 5G rollout in the next two years.
According to sources quoted by the UK media, a new report by the National Cyber Security Centre, a wing of the UK surveillance and intelligence agency GCHQ, will reveal that the risks posed by Huawei can be contained.
Previously, the NCSC had been critical of security issues posed by the company’s technology but appears to have softened its stance.
The US has argued that Huawei could use malign software to spy on 5G networks in other countries. The claim has been denied by the telecom infrastructure and smartphone titan and the Chinese government.
“The National Cyber Security Centre is committed to the security of UK networks, and we have a unique oversight and understanding of Huawei engineering and cyber-security,” an NCSC spokesperson told The Guardian newspaper in the UK.
“As was made clear in July’s Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre [HCSEC] oversight board, the NCSC has concerns around Huawei’s engineering and security capabilities. We have set out the improvements we expect the company to make. The latest Annual HCSEC report will be published in the near future,” the spokesperson added, without commenting on media reports about the contents of the document.
So far, an array of UK mobile operators, such as Vodafone, EE and Three, have been working with Huawei on developing their 5G networks.
The exception has been BT, the largest provider of fixed-line, broadband and mobile services in Britain. The group has already announced it is in the process of removing Huawei equipment from central parts of its existing 3G and 4G mobile operations.
BT has also made it clear that will it not use the company’s components in the core of its 5G network.
Still, the final decision about an outright ban will be made by the British government.
“No decisions have been taken and any suggestion to the contrary is inaccurate,” the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, which is heading the review into the future of the telecoms industry, said in a statement.
Indeed, the situation has become even more complicated after comments made Alex Younger, the head of MI6, which is the foreign-intelligence agency in the UK.
He hinted that banning Huawei might be premature when speaking at the Munich Security Conference in Germany last week.
“There are some practical points about the number of vendors who exist at the moment,” he told the media. “It’s not inherently desirable that we have a monopolistic supplier of any of our critical national infrastructure. We should be aiming for maximum diversity as a matter of good practice.
“We need to take a principles-based approach to this and the first is around quality,” he continued. “This has got nothing to do with the country of origin … we should be insisting on the highest level of quality in any form of technology platform or service we choose to use and in particular security quality.
“I’m not pretending I have the answer on this [Huawei]. It’s more complicated than [Huawei being] in or out,” Younger added.
The Huawei controversy has been raging for the past three months.
Created by billionaire businessman Ren Zhengfei, the family-run business has come under intense scrutiny about cybersecurity and perceived links to Beijing.
Last month, the United States Justice Department announced sweeping charges against the group, including bank fraud, obstruction of justice and technology theft.
Key accusations revolve around violations of US sanctions on Iran, an allegation which has been leveled against Chief Financial Officer Meng Wenzhou, the daughter of Ren.
She was arrested in Vancouver on December 1 and could face extradition to the US.
Meng and the company have categorically denied the charges.
“[They] expose Huawei’s brazen and persistent actions to exploit American companies and financial institutions, and to threaten the free and fair global marketplace,” Christopher Wray, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said at the end of January.
Yet for Beijing, the Huawei row is just part of a broader plan by Washington to contain China’s rise as a major technological power.
Indeed, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs came out with a robust response last month after accusing the US of using “state power to discredit and crack down on specific Chinese companies.”
“[This is] an attempt to strangle the enterprises’ legitimate and legal operations,” Geng Shuang, a spokesman for the ministry, said in a statement. “There are strong political motivations and political manipulations behind the actions.”
Yet these latest reports from the UK will offer Huawei a glimmer of hope as it bids to expand its already substantial global footprint.