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EDITORIAL Will Huawei deal leave UK open to attack or is it going to make it a 5G pioneer?

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Good to see telecoms – and 5G in particular – getting some press in the mainstream media. Pity it has to be tinged with security and trade deal worries, but at least it is getting it out there. In fact, in many ways the Huawei issue has given some excellent press to just how groovy 5G is going to make telecoms in the years ahead.

However, the real thrust of the problem is just how pervasive technology is going to be in the modern world and what risks that presents. Cyber security is increasingly becoming a central theme of telemedia: from the very core threat of Chinese government-owned tech sitting at the network’s heart, right out to making sure traffic that is being billed for is legit.

As to Huawei, it seems that the UK has taken a cautious but sensible approach – a rarity in Brexit Britain: maybe things aren’t so different here, after all? While the US has taken a much harder line – and no one can deny that Trump’s trade war isn’t a major contributing factor – the UK has actually taken a pragmatic line.

There is no one else with the tech that can deploy 5G, not least over a 4G network that already exists and which is already built on Huawei kit. The cap of 35% of 5G tech and the banning of Huawei from the core of the network seems to be a workable.

The problem is that no one has invested as heavily or for as long as Huawei in 5G. It started work on this in 2009, meaning there is practically no alternative to using its tech for 5G roll out. The EU and the US see it differently, but managed right, the UK could well now take a lead in 5G deployment – something the country sorely needs.

The security services clearly think that the deal struck is sound – and if it’s good enough for the UK’s conservative security services then perhaps it is going to be OK?

Malcolm Taylor, director of cyber advisory at ITC Secure and former intelligence officer for GCHQ certainly thinks its ok. He told analysts at GlobalData: “It’s the right decision. Firstly, the UK’s security apparatus – quite possibly the most conservative and risk-averse of all the machineries of government – reported that the Huawei risk was manageable.

“Second, the mitigations used to enable that risk management – including the Huawei cell in Banbury – must make Huawei one of the most scrutinised companies in the world.”

Taylor continues: “Third, there is no hard evidence of any espionage using Huawei technology, globally, and Huawei senior figures have made this point again and again and again. I hear you – no surprise – but go back to number one; the UK’s security apparatus believes the risk can be managed. What more do we need?”

Taylor accepts that there are risks, however– the point, he says,  is managing it. “Already heavily monitored – for goodness sake, decisions about Huawei reach the Cabinet – and managed, Huawei can expect to see that scrutiny only increase,” he says. “The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), whilst reporting that the espionage risk from Huawei was manageable, has also said that Huawei’s cybersecurity practices were poor and needed work.”

He adds: “It’s a good, surprising decision. Now we must wait to see what the Trump administration will do. Put another way, whither the Five Eyes? We can read about it off our new, all-powerful and super-fast 5G phones.”

Paul Beastall, Head of Strategy at Cambridge Consultants and chair of the UK5G Test Beds & Trials Working Group, shares this view: “The government has struck an artful and sensible compromise. Now it’s time to turn our attention to the many transformative applications for 5G technology. 5G means much more than faster speeds to and from our smartphones. The advantages in reliability and latency mean we can now look forward to a new mobile revolution. The new applications that particularly excite me include autonomous vehicles, much wider access to virtual reality and augmented reality, and smart agriculture, where we can digitise farming, bringing huge benefits in precision and efficiency.”

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