Huawei hopes a national media campaign can educate the UK general public on the benefits of fibre and 5G connectivity while also dispelling some of the myths it believes are appearing in the media.
The Chinese vendor has had a presence in the UK for two decades and it was the awarding of a contract by BT in 2005 that accelerated the firm’s international expansion. Since then, Huawei has become a key supplier for all four mobile operators.
However scrutiny of the company’s role in the UK’s communications infrastructure has intensified in recent months following allegations made by the US that Huawei is linked to the Chinese government and that its equipment represents a threat to national security.
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Washington has never produced any evidence to support its claims while Huawei has frequently denied any suggestion of wrongdoing. Nonetheless, calls for the government to reverse a decision made in January that would allow operators to continue to use Huawei’s radio gear in their 5G networks have increased.
Huawei vice president Victor Zhang told reporters that the campaign, which includes full-page advertisements, will communicate with consumers directly. Specifically, it will detail how connectivity will benefit them and look to clarify that Huawei is owned entirely by its employees and has no links to any government – including Beijing.
“This is more than just an advertising placement,” he said. “It’s a commitment to the people of Britain.”
The letter itself reads: “For nearly 20 years, we’ve supplied the UK’s mobile and broadband companies with 3G and 4G. But some now question our role in helping Britain lead the way in 5G. We want you to know we are as committed as ever to providing your network operator with the best equipment so you can share photos, stream movies, get together online and much more.
“While many in cities have fast, reliable connections, others are not so lucky. We know a poor connection makes working from home, or running a small business, harder than it should be. New 5G and full-fibre broadband networks will fix these problems and we’re working to bring high speed connections to every part of the country.
“We’re also playing our part in creating jobs, training the engineers of tomorrow, investing in new technology and supporting universities. We’re here to help you enjoy better, faster connections – quickly, affordably and securely.”
All four major UK operators are Huawei customers and want to use its gear for 5G. They argue that innovation would decrease and costs rise should they be prevented from doing so.
In January, the government finally confirmed that operators would be allowed to use Huawei’s kit in the radio layer of 5G networks – subject to a 35 per cent cap – but not in the core layer. This effectively maintains the status quo as no operator planned to use Huawei for core technology.
Zhang said that as far as Huawei was aware, the January decision still stood and that the company was still in regular contact with the UK government about policy.
The US has urged the UK to reconsider its stance leading to speculation that the decision could be reversed. Last week the National Cyber Security Council (NCSC) said it was reviewing the situation following the imposition of new sanctions by the US.
Reports suggested that was that the UK could demand that operators remove all Huawei kit from their infrastructure by 2023. However, it was also suggested that ministers have acknowledged a total ban is impossible without causing serious disruption to the UK’s communications infrastructure.
GCHQ is also satisfied that Huawei does not pose any risk as, uniquely, the company’s kit in the UK is subject to a dedicated monitoring unit in Banbury.
Zhang acknowledged that 5G security was an important one, but reiterated the company’s long-term position that the issue was one for the entire industry to solve – not just Huawei: “The security risk is a common challenge for our industry and we need to work together to a higher standard and work with operators to create more resilient networks.”
Industry observers regard the UK’s position as highly influential over other countries and there could be repercussions for relations with the US and China depending on which route the government takes.
However Huawei has no plans on giving up. Zhang reiterated that the UK was an important market for Huawei and that it was ready to help the government achieve its goals of nationwide fibre and 5G coverage.
“The UK is a very important market for Huawei,” he said. “Our goal is to support the UK with the best possible technology. That’s why we have launched our commitment today.”
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