Huawei and the 5G network

Credit: Unsplash

Adam Verson

When we are told to worry about so many things, should the Chinese government spying on us really be a concern?

A new network system has been in the works since 2018. In the last six months, the four major UK network providers (Vodafone, EE, O2, and Three) have all launched 5G networks, however patchy and uncomprehensive. Some of the parts can only be provided by three companies (Nokia, Ericsson and Huawei). This is hardly a competitive market, and some are trying to limit it even further. 

Huawei, the Chinese tech giant, was set to play a large part in the roll-out of this new 5G system, before fear was stoked about the security risks they may present. There are two ways to see this. Either there are legitimate claims that the Chinese government have so much control over their domestic companies that if they wanted to (and of course they would want to) they could force Huawei to provide access to sensitive information, giving the Chinese government huge power. The other view is that the US is trying to push this anti-Chinese narrative, since they are engaged in a trade war. If Huawei is allowed to supply their technology to those countries that want the newest networks, this will create a massive amount of business for the Chinese economy. 

So, what should you believe? 

The US has, of course, banned the use of Huawei equipment in upgrades of their networks. Australia has followed suit, and the EU has recommended state investigation into security issues, with the German intelligence service saying that they will not allow Huawei equipment to be used in their 5G network. When making its decision, the UK, or more precisely Boris Johnson, was threatened with the loss of US intelligence information if they didn’t ban the Chinese company. In the end, after an investigation into the risks, it was decided that the UK would allow Huawei’s technology to build it’s 5G network — just not the crucial parts. This restricts Huawei from military and nuclear sites as well as putting a cap of 35% of the total network being supplied by Huawei.

This decision may have been made for a number of reasons. Sensitive data should be encrypted anyway, which means that if it were to be intercepted and sent to the Chinese government they wouldn’t be able to do much with it. Next, the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC), in Banbury, is a lab that Huawei uses to allow UK officials to scour their code for any issues. Their annual reports since 2014 have been critical of the security standard of their work. This is, however, based on buggy code rather than the fear of information leaks and eavesdropping.  

And finally, where the problem really lies: if you allow one or a small number of companies to control the market, the standards they have to live up to greatly diminish, as they know their products are needed. They have control of the market. This is the central problem with monopolies. It may be true that Huawei poses a risk to security concerns, but so do all of these businesses. By arguing that company A is more dangerous than company B we forget about the real issue: huge amounts of our data, both sensitive and mundane, are being passed through many different hands, and some of those hands are less trustworthy than others. However, if we remove some of these we are giving others access to larger amounts of our information, and if we focus on which of the hands we should trust we forget to keep an eye on what the hands are doing and how best to secure our information.


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