UK Gov launches IOT cybersecurity fund

The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has launched a £400,000 fund to fuel ambition for the security of internet-connected products.

The ultimate hope will be to kick-start the development of an assurance market for consumer internet-connected products such as wearable devices or smart doorbells. Such assurance schemes could offer accreditation for products which have undergone relevant tests, providing more confidence for consumers to purchases and to make full use of all functionality without fear of poor security.

“We are committed to making the UK the safest place to be online and are developing laws to make sure robust security standards for consumer internet-connected products are built in from the start,” said Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman.

“This new funding will allow shoppers to be sure the products they are buying have better cyber security and help retailers be confident they are stocking secure smart products.

“People should continue to change default passwords on their smart devices and regularly update software to help protect themselves from cyber criminals.”

The idea is a simple one, but a very good one. Should such assurance programmes be nurtured correctly, and the general public be made suitably aware, it would become a factor in the buying decision making process. Manufacturers would be effectively coerced into compliance as sales could be impacted without the presence of the certification.

Alongside this initiative, new laws in the UK will come into play for both enterprise and consumer internet-connected devices. Any device sold in the UK will soon have to adhere to three rules:

  1. Device passwords much be unique with no option to restore to factory settings
  2. Manufacturers must create and maintain a public point of contact to report device or software vulnerabilities
  3. Manufacturers must state how long the device will receive security updates

These rules should form the basis of a more secure digital economy, though product assurance programmes would add more credibility and confidence in the quickly developing segment.

Recent figures from IDC suggest the wearables market is growing, 29.7% year-on-year for the first three months of 2020, though the numbers could have been higher. The on-going COVID-19 pandemic limited shipments due to supply chain disruptions and sourcing component for the products.

While the consumer IOT segment is still in the early development stages, it is critical the industry set the standards on security. Should the segment be allowed to progress too far with bad habits, attempting to correct mistakes and bad practice will become much more difficult. The UK should be applauded for its attempts to get ahead of trends, and hopefully other Governments are taking note.


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UK’s National Cyber Security Centre launches another Huawei probe

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has confirmed it is attempting to understand what impact potential US sanction directed towards Huawei would have on UK networks.

With Huawei equipment and components delicately woven throughout the complex tapestry of telecoms in the UK, sanctions from the US which would materially inhibit Huawei operations should be a major concern.

“The security and resilience of our networks is of paramount importance,” a cross-government statement reads. “Following the US announcement of additional sanctions against Huawei, the NCSC is looking carefully at any impact they could have to the UK’s networks.”

There have been reports circulating through the press suggesting UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is once again considering the role of Huawei in the telecoms landscape. These rumours are a separate story, but directly linked; the US wants to reduce the commercial opportunities for Huawei, and this is yet another attempt.

First, the US Government attempted the diplomatic approach, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attempting to prove his debating skills. Secondly, fear was introduced with the US attempted to reignite xenophobic fears of communism. The third strategy was more directly aggressive; work with Huawei or have access to our intelligence data, you can’t have both.

None of these strategies worked, but the latest attempt is an interesting one. If Huawei’s supply chain can be compromised, the UK (and other) Governments might have to turn its back on the Chinese vendor because it does not meet the standards required for resiliency tests.

Should the UK Government be revising its position, it would certainly be a blow to Huawei’s credibility.

“We’ve seen the reports from unnamed sources which simply don’t make sense,” said Victor Zhang of Huawei. “The government decided in January to approve our part in the 5G rollout, because Britain needs the best possible technologies, more choice, innovation and more suppliers, all of which means more secure and more resilient networks.

“As a private company, 100% owned by employees, which has operated in the UK for 20 years, our priority has been to help mobile and broadband companies keep Britain connected, which in this current health crisis has been more vital than ever. This is our proven track-record.”

Looking at the other rumours outside this confirmed investigation into the impact of US sanctions on Huawei, the underlying cause could be directed back tor Conservative backbencher Sir Iain Duncan Smith. Once a prominent voice in the House of Commons, Duncan Smith’s influence has been wilting rapidly, so much so this is one of the first times anyone has paid attention to him for what feels like decades.

In March, Duncan Smith led a small group of Tory revolters in opposition of the Supply Chain Review. Instead of limiting ‘High Risk vendors’ to 35% of any telecoms network, this group wanted them banned completely. These politicians clearly did not understand the complexities of the situation and debates were riddled with inaccuracies, but it appears the pressure has been enough to turn the head of Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

What is worth noting is that while the industry has been in firm support of Huawei in recent years, this staunch stance seems to be softening.

Vodafone Group CEO Nick Read recently discussed the Huawei situation during the telco’s earnings call, and while Vodafone had been warning of catastrophic consequences to prevent work with Huawei, the current rhetoric is no-where near as firm. The executive talked of removing certain firms “moderately” and investments into alternatives. It does appear Vodafone is preparing for the worst-case scenario.

While the rumours are nothing more than rumours, with the US undermining Huawei’s ability to operate as desired some uncomfortable questions will be asked. Top of the list is whether the vendor can maintain security and resiliency credentials for its products and components following such a disruption to its supply chain. This could drastically impact its position in the UK telecoms landscape.


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UK Cabinet Office, as well as DCMS and DoH, clueless about COVID app

Some might assume the strategy to combat COVID-19 is being devised on the hoof while patchy delivery suggests there is little communication between departments, and the cynics would be right!

After a week of bouncing from department to department and representatives being unable to offer any clear guidance or in-depth knowledge of the contact tracing application, Telecoms.com is becoming increasingly concerned about the Government strategy, as well as potential implications for privacy and security.

With the information which has been offered from Government representatives to date, it is clear few have any idea what is actually going on.

Last week, the Cabinet Office released new documents which detailed the UK Government strategy to exit the current societal lockdown. Featured in this broad document were 14 projects needed to ensure the country can exit the lockdown effectively, including the creation of a contact-tracing application to monitor the impact and potential spread of the virus.

The following extract is from the bottom of page 39, the section dealing with testing and tracing:

“Information collected through the Test and Trace programme, together with wider data from sources such as 111 online, will form part of a core national COVID-19 dataset. The creators of a number of independent apps and websites which have already launched to collect similar data have agreed to work openly with the NHS and have aligned their products and data as part of this central, national effort.”

Despite this document being published and distributed by the Cabinet Department, and featuring a foreword from Prime Minister Boris Johnson, it was unknown who the ‘independent apps and websites’ are, when the trials of the COVID-19 tracing app on the Isle of Wight would be concluded or how many downloads were being targeted upon release.

Considering the importance of this document and the material in it, one would assume this information would be available, though we were referred to other Government departments, who have not been able to provide insight either.

This is not the first time we have been referred from a department which should have knowledge of the situation and to another. In recent weeks, prior to the beginning of the Isle of Wight trials, the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) stated it was not involved at all with the development of the application, referring us to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), before being directed by representatives of DHSC to the NHS technology unit where communication went unanswered.

Despite the Cabinet Office, DCMS and DHSC presumably being critical Government departments in the development of a contact tracing app to combat COVID-19, there does not seem to be anyone in the know as to what is actually going on.

Unfortunately for everyone involved, the questions posed were not overly complex and should be simple to answer if the information is available, instead one department pointed us to another. Perhaps no-one wanted to muddy their hands with what is quickly turning into a debacle, or maybe no-one could actually answer these simple questions.

If there is little contribution from these departments on the development of the app, how can one ensure there are effective safeguards for cybersecurity or data privacy? The Government has gone against industry advice in pursing a centralised data model, but confidence in its ability to manage this process is increasingly thinning.

The NHS has somewhat of a checkered past when it comes to digital and data projects, and that is putting it politely. Some of these previous attempts to do digital in the NHS has been completely and utterly disastrous, accomplishing nothing, yet the NHS is seemingly blindly trusted as Government departments plead ignorance. The NHS flying solo will have some critics shifting in their seats very uncomfortably.

For the app to work as desired, 60% adoption is a number which has been floated by academia. This is going to be a big ask, therefore delivery will have to be close to perfection. One might hope that the relevant Government departments are a bit more informed moving forward considering the importance of this technology in aiding the UK’s recovery.

France does exactly what it was told not to with COVID-19 app

Much has been said about using technology to combat the coronavirus outbreak, but France has done exactly what many critics feared by cutting corners to compromise security and privacy.

France is one of the hardest hit countries during this pandemic, with more than 114,000 confirmed cases at the time of writing, therefore it is understandable the Government wants to accelerate the deployment of any projects. However, this latest debacle will have data security and privacy advocates tearing their hair out.

Having developed an application to track the spread of COVID-19 using Bluetooth contact tracing, though some functionality of the app is being prevented by Apple’s security features. Designed to protect user data, the iOS feature prevents data being moved off Apple devices via Bluetooth.

Instead of attempting to adapt the application, to ensure privacy and security is maintained for the users, according to Bloomberg French authorities have made the almost laughable decision to request Apple turn off the features in France.

Almost everyone in the digital community recognises the importance of maintaining security and privacy principles despite the severity of the situation, but it appears France missed this memo.

“We’re asking Apple to lift the technical hurdle to allow us to develop a sovereign European health solution that will be tied our health system,” French Digital Minister Cedric O said.

The French Government has stated the data would only be stored on its own servers, with the healthcare authority acting as the data controller, but this seems to be missing the point. O is effectively asking Apple to lift a security protocol and introduce a vulnerability to French Apple devices. And wherever there is a slightly weakness in cyber-defences, the nefarious characters of the dark web are waiting to pounce.

Over the last few weeks, European Data Protection Supervisor Wojciech Wiewiórowski has been quite active. In one letter, responding to concerns over user privacy, Wiewiórowski said the transfer of data would be fine under GDPR assuming the relevant protections have been put in place. It is questionable whether asking Apple to remove a security feature is consistent with this message from Wiewiórowski.

The collection of data is a reasonable approach by any authority, though it does not have to be done in a way which compromises user security and privacy. There are thousands of applications on the App Store which makes use of location or device proximity data without compromising iOS guidelines, so it clearly can be done.

What is also worth noting is that Apple is currently working in partnership with Google to create a framework for COVID-19 applications.

Although bringing the smarts of Google and Apple into the equation will certainly help, the framework which is being proposed would rely on short-range Bluetooth signals, secure local databases and anonymized device identifiers, but would ultimately store data locally on user devices. This is a point of contention with Governments who would like to collect data on centralised servers.

The application of new technologies is certainly the best way to tackle this on-going pandemic, however what appears to be the case here is a fragmented ecosystem.

Silicon Valley is taking one approach, dozens of governments are putting together their own ideas, while privacy advice is being given by centralised regulators but not being adhered to by localised authorities. The mishmash of policies and ideas is not the most efficient way to tackle the problem, or to ensure data protection and security principles are being respected.

Three weeks ago, the European Data Protection Supervisor called for a consolidated, co-ordinated approach, creating a pan-European effort which would be significantly more beneficial. More data, more scientists and more money being thrown at the problem, but this logical idea has fallen on deaf ears as the French ignore advice, cut corners and endanger the digital lives of users.

UK Gov carves out £1bn to save struggling firms

The UK Treasury has announced a new scheme which will see as much as £1 billion made available to UK SMEs who are struggling financially during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The news will certainly provide some relief for companies which might be placed under notable strain thanks to decreased cash flow in recent weeks, but there are some strings attached to the cash.

“Britain is a global leader when it comes to innovation,” said Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak. “Our start-ups and businesses driving research and development are one of our great economic strengths and will help power our growth out of the coronavirus crisis.”

“This new, world-leading fund will mean they can access the capital they need at this difficult time, ensuring dynamic, fast-growing firms across all sectors will be able to continue to create new ideas and spread prosperity.”

The £1 billion will be broken into two pots, the first of which will be known as the Future Fund. This fund comprises of £250 million put forward by the Treasury for high-growth companies impacted by the crisis, with relevant companies able to apply for 36-month loans between £125,000 and £5 million.

To be eligible for these loans, companies would have to fit the following criteria:

  • Must be an unlisted UK registered company
  • Raised at least £250,000 from private parties in previous funding rounds within the last five years
  • Can match the Government loan with funds raised from the private sector

Although the Government is boasting of a ‘£500 million’ future fund, it is only providing the cash for half of this. The remaining £250 million will be provided by the private sector, and loans will be void if the applicant is not able to match the Government cash with private investment.

This condition does make it a bit more difficult for companies to apply for the funds, though at least the Treasury is dipping into the bank accounts to aid SMEs during this period. This is of course a segment which is under-threat.

The SMEs are an interesting segment of the economy, as while they are certainly big enough to cause disruption, when cash-flow is compromised, these are companies which potentially look very fragile. In some areas of the economy, this could have a significant impact to competition, as bigger corporations are much more secure thanks to bigger bank accounts, as well as investors and lending facilities to fall back on.

For example, as a multinational corporation with a very large corporate finance division, the Vodafone Group can access €13.6 billion in cash and other lending facilities during difficult periods (Annual Report – Page 51). Smaller companies would not have these facilities and/or security, while few (if any) organisations could have predicted there would be a crisis of this nature to prepare for.

Should these SMEs not be protected by the Government, there is a risk of bankruptcy or acquisitions. Both outcomes could dent the competitive landscape, or impact the UK’s ability to lead the way to the next digital economy.

The second pot of cash will be directed towards R&D firms who are likely to be burning through cash at a much faster pace.

“We are the tech and creative capital of Europe, and it’s crucial to maintain our place,” said Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Oliver Dowden. “This funding will protect high growth businesses and enable the unicorns of tomorrow to thrive so that tech is in pole position to drive our post COVID recovery.”

This £750 million fund will be carved into several different categories, but ultimately is aimed at supporting SMEs who work in the R&D world.

Starting with Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency, £200 million of grant and loan payments will be made immediately available for the 2,500 firms it counts as customers. An additional £550 million will soon be offered to the same firms, while this secondary pot will also provide £175,000 loans to the 1,200 (roughly) R&D firms not currently in receipt of Innovate UK funding.

“techUK welcomes the support being made available today by Government,” said Julian David, techUK CEO. “The businesses that will be supported by these schemes represent the innovative companies of tomorrow. techUK will continue to work with Government to clarify how the schemes will work in practice to ensure the broadest range of companies can benefit from this lifeline.”

The SME and start-up community has been calling for additional support from the UK Government for weeks and this is a good starting point. It will not be perfect, as some firms will slip through the bureaucratic cracks, but as this is an unprecedented crisis mistakes will be made. This is a positive step forward, however.

With 5G on the horizon, a new digital economy will emerge. 5G is much more than doing things faster than 4G, as it will give rise to new products and services which are not imaginable today. New companies and new fortunes will be created, but if a nation does not protect the start-up community and the innovators who are working on these ideas, the profits will of course be captured elsewhere.

Ireland unlocks additional spectrum to combat COVID-19

Irish authorities have signed new regulations allowing the release of additional radio spectrum to create extra capacity for mobile phone and broadband services.

Signed by Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton and ComReg, the Irish telco regulator, the temporary measures are in response to a sharp increase in the use of mobile networks. The telco networks are currently standing up to the additional demand, though extra help will always be welcomed.

“Now, more than ever we are depending on technology to connect with others and to access services,” said Minister Bruton. “These regulations will ensure that our mobile network operators have the capacity to accommodate the increase in demand. I’d like to thank ComReg for responding to this need so quickly.”

The additional spectrum was released following a consultation with Eir, Three, Vodafone and Virgin Media, along with RTÉ and the Irish Aviation Authority, which was published on March 27. In contrast to the usual state of play in the telco industry, this is an example of rapid action in response to a very difficult environment.

“The provision of this spectrum will help the mobile providers cater for increased demand on their networks,” said ComReg Commissioner Jeremy Godfrey.

“ComReg will continue to work with industry and will support operators so that telecoms networks may continue to meet demand during these unprecedented times. I wish to pay particular tribute to the dedication and skill of ComReg’s staff in completing such a complicated project with such great professionalism and in such a short time.”

The additional airwaves will be released in the 700 MHz and 2.6 GHz spectrum bands, with changed conditions for 2.1 GHz to ensure it can be used for 4G connectivity. Telcos will be able to apply for temporary licences that run for a maximum of three months, for a fee of €100, with the options to extend the licences should it be required in the future.

Ireland is not the first country to release additional spectrum, the FCC offered assistance to AT&T, T-Mobile, US Cellular and Verizon in the US, though many European telcos have said they do not necessarily require the additional airwaves to maintain networks today.

Ofcom, the UK regulator has said it does not plan to release additional spectrum and it has not had any appeals to do so either. Mobile UK, the telco association in the UK, also confirmed operators are not seeking additional spectrum. In Italy, Telecom Italia also said it has made no requests, while Orange also confirmed it has adequate spectrum for today’s operations so would not be making any requests.

Although this seemingly not developing into a pan-European trend, it is somewhat comforting to see a regulator responding promptly. It is very out of character for the telecommunications industry.

UK government pumps £5 billion into broadband sector

In the first budget of the new Conservative government, the UK telecoms sector was just one recipient of a major public spending spree.

The announcement was broadly anticipated, having been promised by the PM and his team for months. The £5 billion of public spending announced was earmarked for ‘gigabit-capable broadband in the hardest to reach places.’ There was also £510 of new investment into the shared rural mobile network and a reiteration of the pledge to reach 95% geographical coverage of 4G over this parliament.

The broader headline announcement was a £30 billion fiscal stimulus to help the UK deal with the coronavirus situation, including short-term loans for small businesses. This is coupled with the UK base rate being reduced by 0.5% by the bank of England this morning to represent an aggressive fiscal and monetary response to the severe slowdown that is now expected to take place while the coronavirus epidemic remains a threat.

It’s not clear yet how significant the failure to specifically name fibre infrastructure in the context of the 5 billion was. Is some of the investment going to go to technologies such as Gfast? Chancellor of the Exchequer Sunak proudly announced this was the biggest ever increase in public investment, but as ever the devil will be in the detail and much of the telecoms sector will only believe the pledges when they actually have the cash in their hands.

“Financial support for the government on rural broadband coverage is welcome,” said Mark Williams, Manging Director at Berkeley Research Group. “It’s the latest in a series of similar government initiatives going back several years. Ensuring ubiquitous mobile network coverage in the UK is challenging for both technical and financial reasons. The challenge for the government and for Ofcom is to ensure that this public funding is used quickly, efficiently and does not replace private investment that the operators would have made anyway.”

“The UK’s broadband connectivity has really needed a shot in the arm for some time,” said Kevin O’Donnell, European Business Manager at Viavi. “In terms of the percentage of population with access to Gigabit internet, the UK is in thirtieth place globally, according to our own research. The UK has been punching well below its weight. Currently, only around 11% of the British population have access to Gigabit speeds. The country lags behind nations such as Moldova, Qatar and France.”

“Getting the four operators to work together to improve rural coverage is a very sensible approach from a consumer perspective and a significant step forward considering operators were previously reluctant to network share,” said Maziar Nekovee, Professor of Telecoms and Mobile Technologies and Head of Centre for Advanced Communications, Mobile Technology and IoT at the University of Sussex.

“But it is disappointing that instead of pushing operators to take advantage of this arrangement to bring 5G to the whole country, the Government is focussing on 4G coverage. The danger is that we will see a new digital divide emerging with cities benefiting from 5G’s higher speeds and other benefits that 5G offers  for  health and care, agriculture, autonomous driving, while rural areas are stuck with 4G, with no incentive from operators to upgrade to 5G and also little room for regional companies to fill in the gap. In short the result could be that while the 4G not spots will disappear, they will simply become 5G not spots instead.”

As ever with budget announcements it’s impossible to please everyone. The robust response to the coronavirus threat and the infrastructure spending spree will please a lot of people, but they’re almost unprecedented from a supposedly conservative government. They will have to dramatically increase borrowing to fund this splurge and maybe even raise taxes, which will have their own adverse consequences. The fiscal multiplier theory is about to be put to the test once more.

Huawei position in UK called into question by rowdy politicians

A small group of UK politicians are gathering steam in opposition of the Telecoms Supply Chain Review, calling for zero involvement from high-risk vendors, and the Government did not directly disagree.

Led by Sir Iain Duncan Smith, a debate in Westminster Hall of the Houses of Parliament took place this morning with several politicians calling for a complete ban for Huawei, aligning the UK to the approach taken in the US and Australia. While the debate itself was full of wild claims and inaccuracies, the message from this small group of opponents was clear; Huawei should be banned from the shores.

There will of course always be opposition to every decision made by the Government, but this is an evolving conversation people should certainly pay attention to.

Smith and other politicians questioned the logic of a 35% limit for companies designated ‘high-risk vendors’, instead asking whether this should be formally reduced to 0% over a definite period of time. Warman, representing the interests of the Government, seemingly agreed with this position. The following exchange should be noted:

Warman: We want to get to a position where we do not have to use a high-risk vendor in our telecoms network.

Smith: I think this is a very important point. I want to know, and I think the rest of the House would like to know, is it now Government policy to drive to 0% involvement by Huawei and other non-secure vendors? Is that now the policy not just 35%?

Warman: Our aim is to not be reliant on high-risk vendors at all and I appreciate he would like me to set out a timetable for that, and I can’t do that today.

What Warman appeared to state is that the Government intends to reduce the involvement of high-risk vendors to 0% at some point in the currently undefined future.

Without an official statement from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, it is difficult to understand the consequences of these comments. However, Warman agreed with the opponents that high-risk vendors should be gradually removed from communications infrastructure. For the moment, the approach of mitigated risk will be maintained, though the Government does seem to back tracking on statements that it can manage high-risk vendors in the network.

This is a statement of some intent from the Government. There is clear and very vocal opposition to the Telecoms Supply Chain Review conclusion, and it does appear the fate of those companies deemed high-risk vendors is once again unknown.

While Huawei might be sitting comfortably today, these comments paint a slightly different picture. What should be worth noting is the language which is currently being employed, as should Huawei be able to prove it is not a high-risk vendor, this developing conversation would be redundant, but even the bravest optimist would admit it is going to be very difficult, if not impossible, to remove this tag.

Once question which will sit rather uncomfortably with those in the telecoms industry is where were these opinions during the Supply Chain Review? Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Chi Onwurah and Stewart McDonald are just some of the opponents to the Telecoms Supply Chain Review, but surely it would have been more useful to speak to the experts, understand industry nuances and competition to raise concerns during the summer of 2019 whilst the Review was taking place?

John Nicolson, the Scottish National Party MP for Ochil and South Perthshire, even suggested the UK should hit the brakes on the deployment of 5G. This motion seemed to attract some interest from other members of the debate.

Over the course of the session, which lasted for roughly 90 minutes, some very bold and strange statements were made. Smith suggested Samsung had stated in a letter that Huawei could not be trusted, Fujitsu is apparently a credible alternative, and one backbencher even suggested Huawei was involved in illegal organ harvesting. Some of the claims are of course very questionable, but the opposition to Huawei is gathering steam.

One point which was touted, and there is some credibility, is whether the Huawei restrictions are somewhat of a homage towards the Chinese Government as the UK pursues a valuable trade deal with the nation. In the Brexit-driven world of today, this is not entirely unbelievable, though it does beg the question as to whether the Government is prioritising the right objectives.

What this does seem evident of is a change in policy for the UK Government. Suggestions high-risk vendors should be reduced to 0% in the future have not been made by the Government to date, and this does appear to be the first signs of a new approach.

For the industry, this is a worrying sign of inconsistency so soon after a collective sigh of relief was made following the conclusion of the Supply Chain Review. It might be costing the telcos a substantial amount to adjust deployment plans to meet the new restrictions, but these comments will need to be clarified and validated by the Government very quickly to avoid any more confusion.

At the time of writing, no clarity has been offered by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

This is an interesting position for Huawei. The Government has seemingly set its sights on irradiating high-risk vendors from communications infrastructure, perhaps thanks to pressure from certain allied nations. If it can remove the ‘high-risk vendor’ tag from its biography, all these problems would disappear for Huawei, though this might well be an impossible ambition considering the global political climate.

National Infrastructure Commission questions UK progress

The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has released its annual report, dampening enthusiasm around telco progress, but the industry got off lightly compared to everyone else.

Progress has been made by the Government and telcos in closing the not spots across the country, as well as accelerating the deployment of 5G, though the NIC has been quick to point to the shortfalls. Most notably, connectivity on the railway.

The risk which is at present today is a false sense of achievement. 5G is progressing quickly, though it is always important to remember the 4G rollout is not complete. In the rural communities and on roads and railway lines, connectivity is poor, irrelevant as to what the telcos or Government will tell you otherwise.

“The UK desperately needs a strategy that looks well beyond this Parliament, setting out infrastructure policy and funding up to 2050,” said Sir John Armitt, Chair of the NIC. “It must contain goals, plans to achieve them, funding to deliver those, and deadlines for delivery.”

Although it might as well be deemed an impossibility, Armitt is correct with his statement. Infrastructure strategy and investment should not be politicised, though it already has been. In making some bold and embarrassing statements, both Prime Minister Boris Johnson and former Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn made connectivity a political ping-pong ball, potentially creating a policy war which bounces back and forth across the aisles achieving very little.

That said, the work of egotistical politicians cannot be undone therefore we have to pursue the current course.

Looking at the report, the telco industry got off lightly. Government departments have been panned for the thus-far laughable attempt to improve rail connections through HS2, better the energy efficiency agenda for the electricity networks and increase house building rates to meet promises of PR hungry politicians. But the telco industry did not escape all condemnation.

Interestingly enough, the NIC suggested mobile voice and 4G data services were now available on all UK motorways, though most who have driven these routes might find some points of disagreement. But it is the rail network which has fallen woefully behind according to the report.

“Motorways now have near universal mobile coverage for both voice calls and 4G data, and work is progressing on the rest of the network,” the report states. “In contrast, progress in improving mobile connectivity on the rail network has been limited, and work appears to have stalled since government endorsed the Connected Future recommendation.”

As with every good backseat driver, the NIC has made several recommendations to improve the connectivity prospects of the UK.

  • Introduce a Digital Champion in the Department of Transport to ensure connectivity aims are being translated into actionable policy and strategy
  • Formalise a strategy to deliver increased connectivity on rail routes. This strategy should be put down on paper by December 2020
  • Force National Rail to collaborate with third parties for access for third parties to deliver a trackside connectivity network on railway land. These arrangements should be formalised by December 2020
  • Begin a competitive process for delivering mobile connectivity improvements on at least four main line routes by June 2021

Interestingly enough, despite there being many pitfalls in the progress of the telco industry in recent months and years, the report has been quite favourable. Progress is of course being made but the UK telco industry is far from perfect. Perhaps more attention will be paid to this critical industry following a new appointment at the NIC.

James Heath, currently the Director of Digital Infrastructure at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), has been announced as the new CEO of the NIC.

“Infrastructure has shot to the top of the political agenda and this role offers an unparalleled opportunity to advise government on how to ensure future investment will deliver lasting benefits to communities across the UK,” Heath said. “I will be joining a talented team and supporting a group of Commissioners whose expertise offers huge value in shaping a strategic approach to infrastructure policy.”

The NIC does have the clout to influence Government decision making and policy, and perhaps this is an effort to pay homage to the increasing importance of telecoms in every aspect of our daily lives. Heath was the man who led the Supply Chain Review process and will of course bring a lot of industry specific experience with him.

Texas Judge rules for White House over Huawei

Huawei has faced a setback in its pursuit of legitimacy in the US. as a Texas District Court ruled against its lawsuit directed towards the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Judge Amos Mazzant of the US District Court in East Texas ruled that section 889 of the NDAA was valid and legal. Huawei had argued the clause, which effectively banned it and ZTE from working with any company receiving federal funding, was unconstitutional on the grounds it presumed guilt without a fair trial.

While a Huawei victory was hardly going to make an impression with the single-minded White House policy makers, this is a victory for the Government, seemingly validating its decision.

“Contracting with the federal government is a privilege, not a constitutionally guaranteed right – at least not as far as this court is aware,” Judge Mazzant said in the ruling, first reported by Reuters.

This is an interesting nuance which has been put forward by Judge Mazzant. Huawei has argued the clause banning service providers from spending federal money on Chinese equipment is unconstitutional, though Judge Mazzant has stated that the Government should have the right to control how its money is allocated and spent. The Act does not prevent Huawei from doing business in the US entirely, which keeps the Government on the right side of the line.

The lawsuit, which was filed in March 2019, stated that Congress was acting in violation of the US Constitution as it was denying the firm the right to bid on both Government and private sector contracts. Huawei suggested the Act was a Bill of Attainder, as it presumed guilt without trial. Under Article I Section 9 in federal law, and in state law under Article I Section 10, US Constitution forbids such actions.

For the US, this could add some momentum to the already existing propaganda campaign against China and seemingly all companies from China. This ruling could add buoyancy to the Simple Resolution which has recently been passed in the House of Representatives.

The resolution, which can be used to influence administrative actions and foreign policy, stated that the House of Representatives believed all Chinese countries were effectively under Government control, state-owned or private. Such a broad-brush approach to condemnation is a very dangerous and small-minded approach to take, though the anti-China rhetoric could be offered a new lease of live…