The scandal rocking Chinese telecoms firm Huawei escalated last night after the US filed a series of criminal charges against it.
The US Department of Justice has alleged Huawei of a raft of criminal offences amid fears Chinese authorities could use the company’s equipment for spying.
The US, Australia and New Zealand have all banned the tech giant from involvement in their 5G networks, while Canada and Germany are carrying out reviews.
But the UK seems less concerned about the espionage threat, and is yet to roll out a ban on Huawei equipment.
What the UK telcos have done
In December BT revealed it would block Huawei equipment from being used in its core 5G mobile network and remove the firm’s technology from its existing 3G and 4G networks.
BT said the move was part of an existing process to replace Huawei equipment following its acquisition of EE in 2016. It is understood BT has not banned Huawei from its 5G operation as a whole, but only from bidding for its core network.
Last week rival mobile operator Vodafone followed suit, saying it will temporarily stop the installation of new Huawei equipment in its core telecoms infrastructure in Europe.
Chief executive Nick Read said the firm is engaging with security agencies, governments and Huawei, and will wait until there is greater clarity over the security risks.
O2, which uses Huawei equipment for a much smaller proportion of its network, has not taken any action against the Chinese firm.
What the UK government has done
Since 2010 the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has run a specialist centre in Banbury, nicknamed the ‘Cell’, which carries out security testing on Huawei products.
Last year the NCSC, which is part of GCHQ, raised concerns about vulnerabilities in Huawei’s equipment, saying it could only provide “limited assurance” that risks to national security were sufficiently mitigated.
The spy centre said it is carrying out a programme to fix the issues, which is set to be completed by mid-2020. Huawei has said it is committed to addressing the issues raised by GCHQ.
Last week MP Norman Lamb, who heads the Science and Technology Select Committee, wrote to senior government ministers asking them to explain why the Chinese firm has not be banned.
“The importance of the UK being able to be confident in the security of its telecommunications infrastructure is clear,” he wrote.
A UK government spokesperson said: “The National Cyber Security Centre is committed to the security of UK networks, and we have a regular dialogue with Huawei about the standards expected of their products.
“The UK government and British telecoms operators work with Huawei to manage cyber security risks while ensuring the UK can continue to benefit from new technology.”
The NCSC’s annual report on Huawei is due to be published in the coming months.
What the experts said
Ewan Lawson, senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, told City A.M. the UK government’s lack of action could be a sign of its confidence.
“I believe people have made a risk management decision and said: ‘At this stage we believe we can manage the risk within our existing system,’” he said.
“The implication is that the government at this stage does not feel that the risk has changed, otherwise presumably they would have done something about it.”
But Lawson said the UK's lack of policy change, as well as its differing position to the US, had caused some confusion.
“I find it slightly strange that we find ourselves in this lack of clarity,” he added.