British security officials do not support a full ban of Huawei from national telecoms networks despite US allegations the Chinese firm and its products could be used by Beijing for spying.
Huawei, the world’s biggest producer of telecoms equipment, faces intense scrutiny in the West over its relationship with the Chinese government and allegations of enabling state espionage, with the US calling for its allies not to use its technology.
Although no evidence has been produced publicly and Huawei has denied the claims, the allegations have led several Western countries to restrict its access to their markets.
“We don’t favour a complete ban. It’s not that simple,” a source told Reuters after a Financial Times report said Britain had decided it could mitigate the risks of using Huawei equipment in 5G networks.
The FT cited two sources familiar with what it said was a conclusion by the UK government’s National Cyber Security Council (NCSC), which last year said technical and supply-chain issues with Huawei’s equipment had exposed national telecom networks to new security risks.
Any decision to allow Huawei to participate in building next-generation 5G networks would be closely watched by other nations, because of Britain’s membership of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing group with the US.
Britain is an important market for Huawei and last month Vodafone, the world’s second-largest mobile operator, said it was “pausing” the deployment of its equipment in core networks until Western governments give the Chinese firm full security clearance.
Other operators in Europe, including BT and France’s Orange have already removed Huawei’s equipment or taken steps to limit its future use.
Sources said the National Cyber Security Council did not think it was necessary to completely bar Huawei from British networks, believing it could continue to manage any risks by testing the products at a special laboratory overseen by intelligence officials.
The position was consistent with public statements made by the NCSC and British officials, they said.
“As was made clear in July’s HCSEC oversight board, the NCSC has concerns around Huawei’s engineering and security capabilities.
“We have set out the improvements we expect the company to make,” an NCSC spokeswoman said.