Huawei's 'Shoddy' Work Could Cost the UK £6.8bn

By Holly Brockwell on at

Well, this is a dilly of a pickle.

The UK wants to be at the forefront of 5G, and plans were going well – all the big networks have 5G services starting this year, although obviously not for the entire country. The government's analysis showed that being one of the world leaders in 5G would come with economic benefits of £6.8bn, which would be very welcome – but there's a spanner in the works in the shape of Huawei.

The country has been grappling with how much involvement Huawei should be allowed to have in our 5G network for ages now, because there are conflicting reports about whether the company's equipment poses a security risk, as Trump's America insists it does.

Now, GCHQ's head of telecoms equipment Dr Ian Levy has issued a stinging criticism of Huawei's engineering. Talking to BBC Panorama, Levy said:

"The security in Huawei is like nothing else – it's engineering like it's back in the year 2000 - it's very, very shoddy.

We've seen nothing to give us any confidence that the transformation programme is going to do what they say it's going to do."

The transformation programme he's referring to is a £1.5bn package of changes the UK has agreed with Huawei, but Levy says we'll have to spend even more than this to patch the holes.

He also suggested banning Huawei equipment entirely from sensitive areas like Westminster, and from the "brains" of our 5G network.

It's still possible the UK will ban Huawei entirely from 5G, in which case we can basically kiss that £6.8bn of benefits goodbye. However, it's much more likely the UK will allow Huawei equipment, but only up to a certain percentage – 50% has been mooted in the past.

Huawei chief exec Ryan Ding comments:

"We hope to turn this challenge into an opportunity moving forward.

I believe that if we can carry out this programme as planned, Huawei will become the strongest player in the telecom industry in terms of security and reliability."

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will give its report on what we're going to do about Huawei and 5G later this month, but it seems there are no easy answers to this particular catch-22. Use Huawei and be 5G leaders but risk massive security problems, or ditch Huawei and pay more for 5G and lag behind the rest of the world?

What a fine mess we've got ourselves into.