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British officials expected to green-light Huawei gear for 5G

Against the urging of the US, officials in the UK are ready to agree to a limited deployment of Huawei gear in Britain's 5G networks, says Reuters.

Officials in the United States have been urging other countries to ban 5G gear from Huawei because they fear the equipment could be used to spy on the US and its allies.
Zhang Yu/Getty Images

UK officials are floating a proposal to let Huawei gear be used in a limited way in the country's 5G networks, which would go against a US recommendation of a total ban on equipment from the Chinese telecommunications company, according to a report from Reuters

The news service cites two unnamed sources who say senior government officials recommended in a meeting Wednesday that Huawei equipment could be used in a limited way without affecting network security. The gathering comes ahead of a meeting of Britain's National Security Council scheduled for next week, where officials will decide whether to deploy Huawei gear. 

Specifically, the proposal calls on barring Huawei equipment from being deployed in "the sensitive, data-heavy 'core' part of the network," Reuters reported. The proposal is similar to a decision the council made last year under then Prime Minister Theresa May.

A spokesman for current Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Reuters that the issue over "high risk vendors in the 5G network" is ongoing. When a decision has been made, it will be announced to Parliament.

Huawei declined to comment on the British plan, but the company has repeatedly denied allegations of spying. 

Neither Huawei nor the prime minister's office responded to CNET's request for further comment. 

The news comes a week after US officials traveled to London to try to persuade Johnson's government to prohibit the use of Huawei equipment in Britain's 5G networks. The delegation argued there was no way the UK could reduce the security risks posed by Huawei having access to the network, according to reports from Bloomberg.

Huawei is the world's leading maker of 5G equipment. It's also the second-largest phone manufacturer by volume. But US officials with the FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Federal Communications Commission and the House Intelligence Committee have expressed concerns over its equipment. The US has long alleged that Huawei maintains a tight relationship with the Chinese government, creating fear that its equipment could be used to spy on other countries and companies.

Johnson told BBC Breakfast last week that Britain deserved "access to the best possible technology." 

US officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have been traveling around the globe urging other nations to stop using Huawei gear, and to keep the equipment out of their 5G networks. The US has also threatened to refuse to collaborate or share intelligence information with countries that use Huawei equipment. This is a huge ask by the US government, which would cost these countries billions of dollars and delay their own rollouts of 5G service. 

The Reuters sources said the proposed solution was an effort at making a "calculated compromise."  

Though UK intelligence officials have criticized Huawei for failing to address security flaws in its equipment, they say they've found no evidence of state espionage. They've also stated they believe they can manage any risks. 

The two largest telecom operators in the UK, BT and Vodafone, have lobbied against a total ban on Huawei gear, saying it would delay the rollout of 5G.