The UK government has announced the launch of a new inquiry to investigate the security of its 5G infrastructure, focusing particularly on Chinese telecoms giant Huawei.

The sub-committee running the inquiry, the Security of 5G, sits under the House of Commons Defence Committee, and according to the UK government will “focus on the use and security of equipment in 5G networks supplied by foreign companies, including the Chinese telecoms supplier Huawei”.

In particular, the sub-committee will explore how the UK can migrate away from Huawei for its 5G infrastructure, exploring “credible alternatives” to the Chinese technology giant.

It will also explore how its continued use of Huawei infrastructure will impact its political connections, in particular with the US.

“5G is the next generation of wireless technology and, although an exciting opportunity for the UK to strengthen its digital infrastructure, it is critical that we have a full understanding of the security implications,” said Tobias Ellwood, MP and chair of the Defence Committee.

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“Once introduced, 5G will fast become an unextractable, indispensable part of our infrastructure as a country. It is paramount that, as we negotiate this new technology, we ask the uncomfortable questions about the possibility of abuse by foreign parties.

“We will work to understand the legitimate concerns around the Government’s decision to allow Huawei to contribute to the 5G network in the UK. A decision of this magnitude must be made with eyes wide open, and we will not shy away from tackling the public’s concerns head on.”

Speaking in response to the announcement, Victor Zhang, Huawei vice president, said:

“Over the last 18 months, the government and two parliamentary committees have conducted detailed assessments of the facts and concluded there is no reason to ban Huawei from supplying 5G equipment on cybersecurity grounds. We have been operating in Britain for nearly 20 years, and played a vital role in the development and delivery of 3G and 4G for people across the UK.

“Cybersecurity requires high and common standards across the telecoms industry, which Huawei has always supported. Creating a 5G Britain rightly requires scrutiny and we will work with the Select Committee to address their questions in the coming months.”

5G inquiry to explore politics of Huawei role

The UK’s use of Huawei infrastructure in its 5G networks has been an ongoing sore point with the US, with the Trump administration mounting a year-long campaign to pressure the UK to remove all infrastructure made by the Chinese company from its network.

The US has in particular questioned whether the UK’s role in the Five Eyes intelligence sharing community can continue if it uses Huawei equipment, claiming that the company would be compelled to conduct surveillance activities on behalf of the Chinese government using 5G infrastructure if it asked to.

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Huawei has repeatedly rejected all allegations of spying, and has argued that there has never been any evidence of such activities.

The UK ultimately has decided to keep Huawei infrastructure in up to 35% of its 5G network – a choice that is likely motivated by practicality – although the inquiry announced today may ultimately see the company’s equipment phased out.

Such a move that has seen growing support from backbench Conservative MPs, who have attempted to timetable a phasing out of Huawei equipment from the UK 5G network.


Read more: Tobias Ellwood: Five Eyes should develop Huawei alternative