Huawei 5G verdict is a decision ‘with few good options’
Whether to allow Huawei to help build the UK’s 5G network is one of the most consequential and difficult national security decisions government has faced.
The decision – due to be made at a meeting of the National Security Council later – involves balancing complex technical risks with geopolitics and costs to the economy.
But it is also an issue where room for manoeuvre is tight – partly thanks to a series of decisions going back over the years which have closed down options.
If you want to understand how we got where we are, it is worth going back more than a decade and a half to when BT was upgrading the UK’s telecoms infrastructure.
It wanted to use Huawei equipment because it was cheaper.
BT – using a trick that operators are still using today – warned that excluding Huawei would cost vast amounts of money requiring compensation from the government.
Few at the time appreciated the significance of the decision.
It was only after it had been taken that officials began to question whether it had opened up the UK to surveillance or even sabotage from China – something Huawei itself has always said is impossible.
And so a strategy was created to minimise the danger.
Steps included making sure there were multiple suppliers in the network and ensuring risky vendors (in others words Huawei) were kept out of the most sensitive parts of the network (for instance the core which controls how it functions).
The history means the UK intelligence community believes it has a much better understanding than anyone else about how to manage the risk from Huawei.