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February 17, 2020updated 19 Feb 2020 10:02am

Tobias Ellwood: Five Eyes should develop Huawei alternative

By Harry Lye

MP and Chair of the Commons Defence Select Committee Tobias Ellwood has said that the Five Eyes intelligence allies should come together to develop an alternative to Huawei.

In a wide-ranging exclusive interview due to be published in the April issue of Verdict’s sister title Global Defence Technology, Ellwood said that the Five Eyes intelligence allies of the UK, US, New Zealand, Australia and Canada should work together to develop a viable alternative to Huawei for future 5G and 6G infrastructure.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently agreed to allow Huawei equipment to be used within the UK’s 5G network on the condition that it was restricted to only being used in non-core infrastructure.

In the run-up to the decision, the UK came under intense pressure from the US to ban the use of Huawei equipment – following in the footsteps of other Five Eyes allies. However, the UK government decided to go ahead with the company’s inclusion on the network after receiving assurances from the intelligence community that risks could be mitigated.

Commenting on China and Huawei, Ellwood said: “What we’re also seeing is that we have a China that is drafting, creating, and following its own set of rules, quite aside from what are the norms of the international community and that takes us to Huawei.

“This is the largest telecoms company in the world, operating in dozens of countries with 3G and 4G technology, and the amount of money and state funding that’s been pumped into this supposedly private company is astonishing. That’s how they got to become technologically superior, but also offer high-tech kit at very low costs.

“We’re now presented with this challenge that the West can’t compete with that, but we have an ambition in the UK to roll out 5G as part of an improvement of prosperity across the nation, particularly in the North of the UK.

“What do we then do? And that has led to this debate about Huawei, the utilisation of Huawei, given that it, Tencent, China Telecom and Alibaba or all of these other companies are obliged by Chinese law to allow the intelligent services of China to have access to their data.”

Five Eyed urged to create a Huawei alternative

Ellwood described this situation as creating a world “that we can accept”, and the cause of friction within the Five Eyes community as countries look to balance national security with the costs of using equipment supplied by Huawei’s western competitors.

In light of this, Ellwood said that Five Eyes allies should work together to develop a sovereign alternative to Huawei that could deliver similar technology at the same cost – so that the UK or other members do not find themselves in a similar situation again.

His comments echo those coming out of Washington, with White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow telling the Wall Street Journal that “The big-picture concept is to have all of the US 5G architecture and infrastructure done by American firms, principally.”

Ellwood said: “What I think we need to recognise is that if we do allow Huawei in temporarily, we need to quickly create an alternative, which doesn’t exist at the moment. So you look at Cisco, Ericsson, Nokia, you need to get these companies together with some international state funding to create our own 5G capability.”

He added that the UK could follow the model set by the development of the F-35 fighter jet when creating an alternative to Huawei. Although primarily developed for the US the programme, the F-35 received international funding from the UK, Australia and Canada, alongside other NATO allies.

Ellwood said that the Five Eyes community should copy this approach and apply it to the development of 5G and future 6G infrastructure.

Read more: Ericsson: We’re beating Huawei on 5G deployment