U.K. poised to give Huawei limited role in 5G networks – report

Sources told Reuters that Britain's proposed restrictions on Huawei represent a “calculated compromise." (Getty Images)

British officials have formally recommended letting Huawei participate in certain portions of the country’s 5G networks, instead of an outright ban, sources told U.S. news outlets Thursday.

According to Reuters, senior government officials made the recommendation Wednesday, proposing to restrict Huawei gear from the more sensitive core network elements, but not completely excluding the Chinese vendor despite U.S. pressure to do so.

The U.K. government is likely to announce the decision in Parliament next week, though it isn’t final yet, and officials will be considering all options over the next few days, sources told Bloomberg.

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The U.S. government has been pushing allies around the world to keep Huawei out of next-generation networks, citing security concerns stemming from the vendor’s ties to the Chinese government. Huawei has continuously denied any allegations that it could be forced to engage in activities like state-sponsored spying or cyber-attacks.

While Huawei equipment is largely absent from major U.S. networks, U.K. operators including BT and Vodafone previously used the vendor’s gear, and have pushed back against a total ban. Some have warned that excluding Huawei could come at high cost, and could delay Britain’s 5G rollouts by years.

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Sources told Reuters that the proposed restrictions on Huawei represent a “calculated compromise” to balance U.K. operators’ desires while trying to appease U.S. pressure. Lawmakers in the U.S. this week introduced legislation that would limit sharing intelligence with any countries who don’t exclude Huawei from 5G their networks.

One argument that has been made against banning Huawei from networks is that operators don’t have a cost-effective alternative. Just last week, U.S. senators proposed bipartisan legislation that would provide over $1 billion to invest in Western-based alternatives to both Huawei and fellow Chinese vendor ZTE.

“U.S. efforts to convince foreign partners to ban Huawei from their networks have stalled amid concerns about a lack of viable, affordable alternatives,” said the senators in their announcement.

The chief executive of U.S.-based Parallel Wireless, a newer entrant and advocate of open RAN technology, said operators need more options when it comes to vendors.

“Even though Huawei technology will play a role in the development of the UK’s 5G networks, mobile operators should look at how they can use more secure and flexible technology suppliers,” said Steve Papa, CEO of Parallel Wireless, in a statement. “Operators need more competition in their supply chains, promoting more innovation, and reducing the cost of improving rural 4G and rolling-out 5G.”