by N. Peter Kramer
UK PM Boris Johnson and the National Security Council are expected to give soon Huawei the go-ahead to build ‘non-core’ parts of the 5G network. This despite claims from the US that doing so would represent a significant security risk. Last week a US delegation warned the British government that using the Chinese tech giant ‘would be madness’. There is a widening rift with the US over Huawei, with Washington being accused by the UK of failing to come up with alternatives.
The US seems to have suggested that the UK has prioritised cost over security and has given in to lobbying from its telecoms providers. The Prime Minister made his frustration with the US clear. He said: ,The British public deserve to have access to the best possible technology. We want to put in gigabit broadband for everybody. Now, with one brand opposed, let them tell us what’s the alternative’. In the meantime, the reality is that British mobile phone companies have already used 5G technology from Huawei in 70 UK towns and cities. Removing it would cost the economy billions of pounds.
It is clear that the UK, compared with for instance all EU member states, is far ahead with developing the 5G technology. BT and Vodaphone, two of Britain’s biggest mobile phone companies, highlighted that they have already used Huawei’s technology in hundreds of masts across the country as part of the 5G project. EE, owned by BT, has installed 5G masts that use Huawei in 50 towns and cities, and Vodaphone has done so in 38. Between them they cover more than 70 towns and cities. The mobile phone industry believes that ripping out the technology would cost hundreds of millions of pounds and delay the extension of 5G by two or four years, damaging the economy.
Yesterday, Boris Johnson said: ‘Let’s be clear, I don’t want as the UK prime minister to put in infrastructure, that is going to prejudice our national security or our ability to co-operate with our Five Eyes* intelligence partners!’. However, there is a consensus in the government that the US is ‘sabre-rattling’. According to the London Times, Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, is understood to have not even raised the issue during recent conversations with Dominic Raab, his UK colleague.
*UK, Canada, US, New Zealand and Australia.