UK telcos warned not to use ZTE network equipment

The UK’s National Cybersecurity Centre (NCSC) has written to UK telcos warning them that using network equipment manufactured by Chinese firm ZTE would negatively impact the UK’s national security.

The letter, seen by the FT, said that “the use of ZTE equipment or services within existing telecommunications infrastructure would present risk to UK national security that could not be mitigated effectively or practicably”.

The NCSC’s main concern is that the Chinese state has significant influence over companies and individuals.

ZTE network security

Equipment from Chinese firm Huawei (along with Nokia and Ericsson) is widely used in the UK, but GCHQ has a special team to monitor its use to ensure there is no state interference. The use of ZTE equipment would make this impossible, the NCSC argued.

The NCSC has confirmed the existence of the letter, arguing it considered technical advice before sending it.

“It is entirely appropriate and part of NCSC’s duty to highlight potential risks to the UK’s national security and provide advice based on our technical expertise,” said Ian Levy, NCSC Technical Director. “NCSC assess that the national security risks arising from the use of ZTE equipment or services within the context of the existing UK telecommunications infrastructure cannot be mitigated.”

The US has already effectively prevented Huawei and ZTE from selling their wares to US telcos on national security grounds, while it blocked a proposed takeover of Qualcomm by rival Broadcom because of concerns it would give Huawei an advantage in 5G.

In a separate development, the US has just banned ZTE from using US supplier for seven years for violating the terms of a sanctions violation case.

ZTE has a limited presence in the UK, most notably a research and development agreement with BT.

TechRadar Pro has approached ZTE for comment.

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.