Turnbull: ‘Beggars belief’ no Five Eyes member has a leading 5G vendor

Former Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull gave his views on the use of Chinese telecoms equipment in Western networks during an event in London.

Australia was among the first to ban Chinese vendors from its national 5G networks, and it was one of Turnbull’s final decisions before he was replaced.

Speaking to an audience at the Henry Jackson Society, which included many prominent British MPs, Turnbull said:

“One of the final decisions made while I was prime minister, as a decision of the government, was to ban telecommunications companies which could not meet our security requirements.

That included Huawei and ZTE from providing equipment to our new 5G telecom networks on national security grounds.”

Critics of the decision claimed Australia was following a call from the United States which has been pressuring allies, particularly those in the ‘Five Eyes’ alliance, to ditch Chinese vendors.

“We decided not because another country told us to do so, let alone for protectionist reasons, but to defend our own sovereignty and to hedge against changing times," refuted Turnbull about the claims.

Five Eyes is a surveillance partnership which consists of the US, UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. Some members are concerned if any partner is vulnerable it may compromise the others.

The former PM goes on to say it ‘beggars belief’ that none of the Five Eyes members have their own champion 5G vendor:

"In many discussions with my western counterparts, I raised the concern that we – in particular the Five Eyes – had got to the point where there were now essentially four leading vendors of 5G systems; two Chinese, Huawei and ZTE; and two European, Ericsson and Nokia.

With the benefit of hindsight it beggars belief that the countries which pioneered wireless technology – the United States, the UK, Germany, Japan, and - with WiFi - Australia – have got to the point where none of them are able to present one of their own telcos [as] a national, or a Five Eyes, champion in 5G."

Speaking to the British directly, Turnbull said it was important to recognise the increased security risks 5G poses over previous generation networks:

"5G is different. Not only will it deliver much greater bandwidth – megabits per second but also much lower latency – it will also be the platform on which billions of devices, large and small will run from sensors in your home, industry, and everywhere to automated vehicles.

The old distinction between the core and the radio access network or the edge will no longer be applicable."

The UK is still deciding on its position when it comes to Chinese telecoms equipment. In previous generations, it’s relied on a dedicated facility known as the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC) to inspect equipment prior to use.

Until last year, the HCSEC oversight board was able to report that risks from the use of Huawei equipment could be successfully mitigated. The latest report highlighted issues that meant it could no longer give that guarantee.

The report stated: "Security critical third party software used in a variety of products was not subject to sufficient control... Third party software, including security critical components, on various component boards will come out of existing long-term support in 2020, even though the Huawei end of life date for the products containing this component is often longer."

Huawei promised to address these concerns but people with knowledge of the matter said an upcoming report will scathe the company for being slow to do so.

Turnbull said regardless of the British government's decision, it was important for the two nations to treat cyber as a "matter of the highest bilateral importance" to ensure citizens are kept safe.

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