Vodafone: Banning Huawei would be costly and slow our 5G rollout

Vodafone has chimed-in on whether the UK government should ban the use of Huawei 5G equipment in national networks.

The operator has Huawei equipment installed in a third of its base stations. If the government were to ban the Chinese vendor’s gear, Vodafone would have quite a task replacing it all.

Speaking to Reuters, Vodafone UK CTO Scott Petty said:

“If we were forced to remove Huawei from the network, we would need to go to the 32 percent of base stations that are currently using Huawei for radio and replace all of those with somebody else’s technology and then deploy 5G on top of that,”

Then, of course, there is the sheer cost involved.

“The cost of doing that runs into the hundreds of millions and would dramatically affect our 5G business case; we would have to slow down the deployment of 5G very significantly.”

Much of the concerns around Huawei equipment come from the US which claims Beijing has state control of the company and could use the gear for surveillance purposes. Given the increased use cases of 5G, there is heightened concern over previous generations.

Huawei denies Beijing has any control over its operations although its founder, Ren Zhengfei, did admit recently the company has a Communist Party committee. Zhengfei went on to highlight that all companies, foreign or domestic, operating in China must have such committees in order to abide by the law.

Mitigating Risks

Vodafone UK has already mitigated the risk somewhat by deciding not to use Chinese equipment in higher risk parts of the network more than five years ago, according to Petty. The wider company announced in January it would stop buying Huawei 5G core equipment in Europe.

Last month, the head of the National Cyber Security Center said Britain could manage the security risks – as it has done in previous generation networks through the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre in Banbury, Oxfordshire – and is yet to see any evidence of malign activity by the vendor.

However, in the same month, the world’s oldest independent think tank on international defence and security – the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) – warned that allowing Huawei to participate in 5G would be 'naive' and ‘irresponsible’.

This a scathing excerpt from the RUSI’s report:

“It is far easier to place a hidden backdoor inside a system than it is to find one. In the likely, but unacknowledged, battle between Chinese cyber attackers and the UK’s Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre, the advantage and overwhelming resources lie with the former.

The 2013 Intelligence and Security Committee report on Huawei’s participation in the current generation of telecommunications was scathing. Among other criticisms, it pointed out that GCHQ could not be confident in finding insertions embedded in software containing over a million lines of code (or more, given frequent software updates), which would enable covert downloading of information.”

A Huawei exec recently argued the vendor would not compromise security as being caught even once would be catastrophic for its business.

Meanwhile, Huawei is suing the US for its ‘unconstitutional’ 5G ban. The company’s CFO, Meng Wanzhou, has filed a lawsuit against Canada for ‘unlawful conduct’ during her arrest over allegations she flouted US sanctions against Iran by pretending a Huawei subsidiary was not part of the wider company.

The British government is due to release a report in the coming months following a review of the telecoms supply chain. As usual, Telecoms will keep you posted.

Interested in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this and sharing their experiences? Attend the Cyber Security & Cloud Expo World Series with upcoming events in Silicon Valley, London, and Amsterdam to learn more.

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