UK government won't rush 5G security report despite growing operator unrest

(Image credit: Pixabay) (Image credit: Pixabay)

Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright has said a security review of the UK’s 5G supply chain is a complex project and will not be rushed despite new warnings from mobile operators that further delay of the report’s publication is leading to uncertainty.

Speaking at 5G World in London, Wright said the government was committed to making the UK a leader in 5G networks, citing funding for trials, the provision of spectrum, and a pledge to relax planning laws governing network deployment as evidence.

However, he cautioned that this ambition would not come at the expense of security.

Huawei UK report

“While its right that we harness the opportunities of 5G, we must never forget about maintaining the security and resilience of these networks,” he said. “[The review] is about developing a long-term security framework in the UK’s best interests and takes into account [the views of] security experts and our intelligence agencies.

“It’s clear that we will need to significantly strengthen this country’s telecoms framework. The decisions are complex, but they must be made.”

The report does not focus on a single company or country, but one of the biggest issues is the role of Chinese network equipment vendors – especially Huawei – in future deployments.

The company is a major network partner for all four operators and its radio equipment is valued for its innovation and price competitiveness. Leaks that led to the departure of Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson suggested Huawei would be excluded from the core layer of 5G networks, but not the radio layer – a measure that would maintain the current status quo.

However political arguments have engulfed the issue and the report, which was expected to be published in the Spring, has still not been delivered. Operators, which argue a ban on Huawei would lead to lower innovation, higher costs, and delayed availability of 5G are growing impatient.

According to the BBC, operators will send a letter to Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwell this week, telling the government that the UK’s position as a leader in 5G is under threat. They argue they cannot invest in infrastructure while such uncertainty persists.

Wright said he understood the concerns of the sector and did not commit to a publication date. He did admit that recent decisions by the US, such as it banning American firms from dealing with Huawei, had exacerbated the complexity of the review.

“In relation to the supplier you have in mind [Huawei], there are complications – such as the situation in the US, that make this more complex than before,” he said. “So, I can’t give you a [publication date] but it’s important we consider all the factors in play and make a balanced judgement.

“We’ll do it as soon as we can, but you’ll all appreciate there are a few things slowing us down.”

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.