Readers of The Engineer have been fairly emphatic that Chinese telecoms giant Huawei should not play a role in the UK’s 5G infrastructure.
It’s been another dramatic week in the Huawei saga, with Google declaring it will no longer provide Android updates for the Chinese firm’s phones. That decision followed an executive order from US president Donald Trump that effectively blacklisted Huawei, forcing US chip makers such as Intel and Qualcomm from doing business with it, and Google to remove support for its operating system.
Within the last day, however, the US has rolled back its sanctions on the company, granting a 90-day grace period for Huawei to continue doing business with US firms. It remains to be seen whether the US sees the company as a genuine security threat, or if it is simply in the front lines of the wider trade war simmering between Washington and Beijing.
Closer to home, former head of MI6 Sir Richard Dearlove claimed that allowing Huawei to build critical UK telecoms infrastructure was a risk “we simply do not need to take”, no matter how small the chance of Chinese state interference. It’s a sentiment that the majority of Engineer readers agree with; a whopping 57 per cent were in favour of excluding Huawei from the 5G network over security concerns. An additional eight per cent cited China’s human rights record as the main reason for barring the firm, meaning almost two-thirds of respondents support a ban for one reason or another.
Conversely, less than a quarter (24 per cent) of those surveyed believe the UK government should work with Huawei on 5G, 17 per cent pointing to the Chinese company’s position as a market leader and seven per cent backing a deeper trading relationship with China more generally. The ‘none of the above’ option was chosen by 11 per cent of respondents.
Although a large majority expressed concern over potential Huawei involvement in UK 5G, the comments section was notably more pragmatic about the scenario. Several readers pointed to the lack of UK capabilities in this area while others claimed that the US actions were primarily politically motivated.
“As with so many issues about technology infrastructure we have the know-how but not the hardware,” said Bruce Renfrew. “In Britain, as in the US, there is virtually no one left who manufactures the components needed to assemble infrastructure like this autonomously.”
Another Steve claimed: “There is no reason why we should fixate on the risks of Chinese technology over and above the well documented risks of American and Israeli technology, for example. Let’s have a level playing field independent of the machinations of protectionist politicians.”
Reader Chris Chambers expressed similar thoughts. “All single sourced electronic networking structures can form a security risk,” wrote Chris. “Use the best manufactures and take steps to ensure the operators have complete control access to all products used and block any unrecognised data. Use software defined networks in sections to strip out unwanted protocols.”
David Searle was not convinced, however. “We seem to be becoming more and more reliant on foreign companies to keep our infrastructure working,” David noted. “It doesn’t take much imagination to see that if we have some kind of disagreement with any power, including the Chinese, they could switch us off, sending us back to the dark ages. The first role of government is to defend us from aggressors. Anything that could jeopardise that should be rejected.”
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