British Prime Minister Theresa May has today made the surprise announcement that her government will give Chinese telecommunications provider Huawei the go-ahead to help build 5G infrastructure in the UK.
The decision comes despite warnings from both the American and Australian governments about the potential threat posed by deploying Huawei equipment. Britain's western allies have both voiced fears that the Chinese manufacturer has close ties to the Chinese government, and that its telecommunications could, therefore, be used as a vehicle for state-sponsored espionage.
With most developed nations currently racing to set up 5G cellular networks, Huawei is one of just a few providers of the technology required for the next generation of mobile connectivity.
The American and Australian governments have both banned Huawei from providing components to build 5G networks in their countries, with a former Australian Prime Minister lamenting that the Five Eyes nations – that is, the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada – have not developed the capability to roll out 5G networks 'in house'.
Despite recent reports suggesting that the potential security risks posed by Chinese-made equipment can be mitigated, the bans in the US and Australia remain in place and both countries continue to push allies to likewise ban Huawei from building their own 5G networks.
You’ve been warned
While today's announcement could potentially strain the UK’s relationship with the US and Australia, Britain’s National Security Council has only agreed to allow Huawei access to ‘non core’ parts of the country's 5G infrastructure, according to The Telegraph (opens in new tab). And although it isn’t a blanket ban, the decision is not likely to please either the Chinese government or Huawei.
A recent study claimed that if the UK completely banned Huawei from building the country’s 5G mobile network, it could cost the British economy as much as £6.8 billion. Another report, which was commissioned by industry body Mobile UK, has said the exclusion of Huawei would delay the widespread availability of 5G in the UK by 18-24 months.
However, the ban on Huawei equipment hasn’t stopped telcos from the US and Australia from rolling out 5G networks locally. AT&T has switched on 5G in some US cities, while Australia’s biggest telco, Telstra, has done the same Down Under.