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Huawei, 5G and the UK: The key issues

Questions remain over the Chinese telecoms giant's place in 5G networks, amid ongoing concerns over security raised by the United States.

The United States is continuing to urge the UK to reconsider allowing Huawei to be a part of the country’s 5G network, with US politicians warning the issue could damage relations between the two countries.

Here is a look at the key issues in the debate around Huawei.

– What is Huawei?

Huawei is the Chinese telecoms giant which describes itself as a private company “fully owned by its employees”.

In recent years, its range of smartphones have become commonplace across the UK, and it is now established as one of the biggest smartphone manufacturers in the world, alongside Apple and Samsung.

In addition to making mobile devices, the firm also makes telecommunications networks.

– Why is the company controversial?

Huawei has come under criticism over its alleged close ties to the Chinese state.

The country has a history of state censorship and surveillance, such as the “Great Firewall of China” which blocks multiple internet services in the country and, under Chinese law, firms can be compelled to “support, cooperate with and collaborate in national intelligence work”.

As a result, critics of Huawei have expressed concerns that Beijing could require the firm to install technological “back doors” to enable it to spy on or disrupt Britain’s communications network.

The US is a strong critic of the firm and last year President Donald Trump added Huawei to the Entity List, effectively blacklisting the firm and preventing it from trading with US companies.

Consequently, Huawei has not been able to use core Google apps on its newest smartphones as part of the Android operating system it uses to power the devices.

However, the firm has always denied any suggestions of close links with the Chinese state or that it has ever been asked by Chinese authorities to help spy on others, insisting it fully abides by the laws of each country in which it operates.

– How is it linked to 5G?

As well as its smartphone business, Huawei is one of the market leaders in telecoms infrastructure equipment, including that for 5G.

The next generation of mobile data communications, 5G has been rolling out to areas of the UK for the last year.

The new networks allow for larger amounts of data to be transferred at once, which could one day power new technologies such as autonomous car networks and remote surgery where specialist surgeons cannot reach a hospital physically.

As a result, a great deal of debate among telecoms firms and governments is ongoing over how to secure such a data-sensitive network, which has led to the scrutiny of Huawei.

– What is the UK’s position?

Earlier this year, the Government confirmed it would allow Huawei to have a limited role in the roll out of the UK’s 5G network.

The company was classified as a “high-risk vendor”, meaning it cannot be used in critical parts of the network – such as military bases and nuclear facilities – and its presence should be limited to 35% of the periphery of the network.

The decision was met with anger by critics in both the UK and the US, with the latter warning it would consider withdrawing intelligence cooperation from countries who allow Huawei to be a part of telecoms networks.

Officials and politicians from the country have repeatedly urged the UK to reconsider the decision, with Republican Senator Tom Cotton from Arkansas telling MPs on the Defence Select Committee on Tuesday that he fears China is “attempting to drive a hi-tech wedge” using Huawei to jeopardise the “special relationship” between the UK and the US.

This came after a further twist on Monday, when the Prime Minister’s official spokesman revealed that the UK’s cyber security agency has now launched a review looking at the impact new US sanctions against Huawei could have on the UK’s networks.

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