While the impact on UK policy is questionable, that does not seem to be deterring US politicians from attempting to influence decision-making on Huawei’s 5G fortunes.
In a letter to Parliament, 20 Senators have urged UK politicians to reconsider their position on Huawei in the era of 5G connectivity. There is already dissent amongst the ranks in the House of Commons, though whether this trans-Atlantic communique has any catalyst impact remains to be seen.
“We write to express our significant concern with the Government of the United Kingdom’s recent decision to allow Huawei Technologies into its 5G network infrastructure,” the letter states.
“Given the significant security, privacy, and economic threats posed by Huawei, we strongly urge the United Kingdom to revisit its recent decision, take steps to mitigate the risks of Huawei, and work in close partnership with the U.S. on such efforts going forward.”
Led by Senators Ben Sasse and Chuck Schumer, the cross-aisle communication to influence decision making outside its borders is another attempt from the US to stamp its authority on the global landscape.
In the letter, the Senators have asked the UK to take a sterner stance against Huawei, but also enter into a partnership with the US to drive forward innovation and competition in this sparse segment of the telco industry. US politicians have already allocated funds to accelerate the development of OpenRAN technologies, touted as a challenge to the RAN status quo, to open-up the field of options.
Interestingly enough, this seems to be the carrot approach to influence, seeing as the stick wielded by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been as effective as a chocolate tea pot. Or has it?
The US might not have gained the outright ban which it has been chasing, but arguably lobby efforts have influenced UK policy. Would the UK introduced have restrictions on the telcos for ‘high-risk vendors’ if it was not at least partially listening to the trans-Atlantic drone? The UK Government does not want to place financial burdens on its telcos, but it has effectively done so with the Supply Chain Review. BT/EE, Vodafone and Three have all been forced into a rethink on how to deploy 5G, with Three facing significant disruptions.
With the conclusion of the Telecoms Supply Chain Review, UK telcos are free to work with ‘high-risk vendors’, a category which includes Huawei, though there are restrictions. The share of infrastructure equipment in a telcos inventory must not exceed 35% from a high-risk vendor, while no more than 35% of the total internet traffic for a telco can cross equipment from these suppliers. High-risk vendors are banned from contributing equipment to the network core.
The argument from the US is that the individual components of the network cannot be separated, therefore the risk cannot be mitigated. This same rationale has been put forward in objections from a group of UK politicians in opposition of the Telecoms Supply Chain Reivew.
Led by Sir Iain Duncan Smith, a few dozen MPs met to criticise the outcome of the Review. While some of the claims were mind-boggling and some of the statements quite inaccurate, the resounding message from this small group was an outright ban for Huawei and any other equipment vendors who would be deemed ‘high-risk’.
This is another area where the US lobby has seemingly gained traction, as none of the MPs present were particularly vocal during the Supply Chain Review. In fact, few politicians outside of the Department of Digital, Media, Culture and Sport paid much attention, occasionally posing questions when the topic was raised in the House of Commons. Only a small handful campaigned against Huawei, though now there are plenty who are seizing the opportunity to criticise the Review.
The conclusion of the Supply Chain Review was supposed to put this matter to bed, but it seems this is an argument which refuses to defuse. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has already suggested his lobby mission would continue, and perhaps this is evidence the US is having more of an influence on UK policy than previously believed.