What is 5G and what are the challenges in rolling it out?
5G is the next generation of mobile communications technology and is expected to offer faster mobile broadband connections and the ability to connect a greater number of devices online. The UK Government has said it wants to be a global leader in 5G and the rollout of 5G has already began in many areas.
However, there are several challenges associated with 5G rollout, chief amongst these are concerns overs the security of 5G networks. Concerns have been raised in Parliament, relevant industries, academia and by the press regarding the use of equipment in 5G networks that has been supplied by foreign companies, focussing on Chinese telecoms supplier Huawei.
There are concerns about the security standards of Huawei equipment in general, the extent to which Chinese law could compel the company to assist the State’s intelligence services, coupled with broader ethical and ideological concerns about the growing global presence of Chinese technology companies. Some countries, for example the USA and Australia, have restricted the role that foreign telecommunications providers can play in national 5G and/or telecoms networks.
There have been some calls for the UK Government to follow suit and take a stricter approach to Huawei in UK 5G networks, including reported pressure from the US on its allies to ban the use of Huawei equipment in 5G networks. However, in January 2020, the UK’s National Security Council made the decision to exclude Huawei technology from the most sensitive parts of the UK’s 5G network, while allowing it to supply peripheral components such as mobile phone masts and antennae.
Launching the inquiry, Defence Committee Chair the Rt Hon Tobias Ellwood MP said:
“5G is the next generation of wireless technology and, although an exciting opportunity for the UK to strengthen its digital infrastructure, it is critical that we have a full understanding of the security implications.
“Once introduced, 5G will fast become an unextractable, indispensable part of our infrastructure as a country. It is paramount that, as we negotiate this new technology, we ask the uncomfortable questions about the possibility of abuse by foreign parties.
“We will work to understand the legitimate concerns around the Government’s decision to allow Huawei to contribute to the 5G network in the UK. A decision of this magnitude must be made with eyes wide open, and we will not shy away from tackling the public’s concerns head on.”
Call for written submissions
The Committee is inviting written evidence submissions on the following points. The deadline is 5pm on Friday 3 April 2020.
- What are the risks to the UK’s 5G infrastructure? How can these be mitigated?
- What is the role of government in 5G cyber security?
- To what degree is it possible to exclude Huawei technology from the most sensitive parts of the UK’s 5G network while allowing it to supply peripheral components?
- What credible alternatives are available to Huawei systems?
- To what extent was the UK Government’s decision on Huawei driven by political rather than technical factors?
- How will the UK Government’s decision impact the UK’s geopolitical position?
- How will the UK’s allies, particularly those in Five Eyes, respond to this decision?
- How will this decision impact the UK’s security and defence capabilities and the UK’s interoperability with allies?
- How important it is for the UK, separately or with allies, to maintain industrial capability in this field?
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