LONDON — The U.K. looks to be on a path to gradually eliminate telecommunications equipment supplied by Huawei Technologies from its ultrafast 5G networks, reversing an earlier decision to allow the Chinese company to take part.
The National Cyber Security Center, which identifies and monitors vulnerabilities in the British online environment, has reportedly concluded that Huawei products are no longer secure after the U.S. cut off the supply of key parts.
The body had been reevaluating security risks tied to Huawei after the U.S. Commerce Department announced tougher export restrictions on the company in May. A report will be submitted soon to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, local news outlets report.
The British government had previously decided in January that Huawei could supply up to 35% of nonsensitive parts for 5G networks. The U.S. at the time urged the U.K. to lock out the company completely due to national security concerns. London decided it would be too costly to swap out Huawei-made equipment already in use by British telecom providers. But it could now start replacing Huawei equipment by the end of the year.
Huawei products are used widely across Europe due to their relatively cheap prices and solid performance, a result of the company’s massive research and development budget. Germany’s Deutsche Telekom in June announced it would use Huawei in its 5G network.
But additional U.S. sanctions have forced many countries to rethink their stance. Guillaume Poupard, head of France’s cybersecurity agency, said Huawei products may not be permitted in French 5G networks, in an interview published Monday by the Les Echos newspaper.
Even if they were permitted, they could face a three-to-eight-year limit on their use, Poupard said, urging companies that are currently not using Huawei products to steer clear.
In addition to security concerns tied to Huawei products, the U.K. is walking back its January decision partly due to growing distrust of China.
More than 40,000 have died from the coronavirus outbreak in the U.K., the largest figure in Europe. The ruling Conservative Party launched the China Research Group in April, modeled after an influential team of Brexit-supporting lawmakers, and many are pushing to curb the U.K.’s reliance on China for medical equipment and other products.
“We can’t have business as usual after this [pandemic] crisis,” British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said back in April.
China’s decision to impose a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong has only added to tensions. The U.K. has strongly criticized the law, calling it a violation of China’s promise to grant the city a high degree of autonomy under the Sino-British Declaration of 1984.
Meanwhile, Huawei insists that its products are safe. The U.K.’s decision to block the company from its 5G networks would result in higher costs for telecommunications companies, which in turn could delay the rollout of these networks.