Chinese firms face 5G ban over spying fears as British companies warned to switch mobile suppliers

Chinese firms face 5G ban over spying fears as Government warns British companies to switch mobile suppliers

British telecoms firms could be banned from using Chinese equipment as they build 5G networks amid spying fears.

The Government has warned companies including BT, Vodafone, O2 owner Telefonica and Three that they may have to switch suppliers following a review into telecoms infrastructure, including ‘fifth generation’ mobile services.

The review could see rules introduced that would stop certain suppliers being involved in the UK’s planned 5G mobile network. That could spell trouble for Chinese firms including Huawei, which has already been barred from work in the United States and Australia on security grounds.

Huawei is only one of many Chinese companies that could be stopped from entering the UK's planned 5G mobile network

Huawei is only one of many Chinese companies that could be stopped from entering the UK’s planned 5G mobile network

In a letter to telecoms firms, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the National Cyber Security Centre said it was paramount that Britain’s ‘critical national infrastructure remains resilient and secure’.

It warned that the ‘outcome of the review may lead to changes in the current rules’.

A Government spokesman insisted the review – expected in the spring– was not targeted at ‘any one company or country’.

But it comes after the National Cyber Security Centre, part of spy agency GCHQ, raised concerns about growing Chinese involvement in important national infrastructure.

At the centre of the controversy has been Huawei, the largest telecoms company in the world, which is trying to win contracts to build the networks.

The firm is already deeply involved in the UK’s broadband network but operates under the supervision of GCHQ officials.

Network of the future

  • 5G is the next generation of mobile connections
  • It offers download speeds ten times faster than 4G
  • 5G users will be able to download high-definition films in seconds
  • It will cut out delays from live-streaming
  • Surgeons could carry out operations using gloves controlling robot equipment
  • Ambulances could use it to get advice from hospitals by video
  • Driverless cars – which need huge amounts of real-time data – will also benefit

It wants to build 5G networks here as well and has already been chosen as a partner by Three. 

Huawei is also running a test network with BT-owned EE in London and has teamed up with the University of Surrey on research efforts. Its technology has been favoured by telecoms firms because it is cheaper and more advanced than that of rivals.

But Dr John Hemmings, an Asia and security expert at the Henry Jackson Society think-tank, said the review of 5G supplier rules was a sign there was growing concern about Huawei.

Critics claim the firm is subject to laws in China which require private companies to hand over data requested by the security services, although Huawei denies this. Hemmings said: ‘While Huawei is not directly named, it has been increasingly unwelcome in developing the networks of other countries. This is down to the fact that Chinese firms have come increasingly under pressure to work for the Chinese government.’

Speaking in the House of Lords last month, Lord Young, a Cabinet Office spokesman, said: ‘The National Cyber Security Centre has raised its concerns about the ability to manage the risk of having more Chinese-supplied equipment on UK infrastructure, including those around Huawei.’

But Huawei executive Ken Hu yesterday rejected security concerns, saying: ‘Technology issues should not be politicised.’

BT defended its use of Huawei saying it has ‘rigorous security controls’. Vodafone also said it has a ‘rigorous’ process in place and Telefonica said it worked closely with the National Cyber Security Centre, while Three is understood to have briefed security officials on its discussions with Huawei before it agreed a partnership.

 

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