Britain will enable Huawei Technologies a restricted role in building parts of its 5G network looking for a middle way in an unpleasant argument between the United States and China over the next generation of communication technology.
The world’s largest maker of telecommunications equipment, Huawei Technologies is under intense scrutiny after the United States told partners not to utilize its technology due to fears it could be a car for Chinese eavesdropping. Huawei has firmly denied this.
A news agency reported Britain's National Security Council, chaired by Prime Minister Theresa May, had decided to enable Huawei access to non-core parts of 5G mobile substructure like antennas, in spite of worries from ministers.
A security source told a news agency that Britain would block Huawei from entirely core parts of the 5G network and access to non-core parts would be limited. Another source confirmed that. Both spoke on condition of anonymity.
Britain's compromise could provide a template for others to follow that the world's most important intelligence-sharing network - the Anglophone Five Eyes alliance - could live with. Huawei also welcomed London's move.
Nonetheless, some British legislators stayed opposed.
"Allowing Huawei into the UK's 5G infrastructure would cause allies to doubt our ability to keep data secure and erode the trust essential to Five Eyes cooperation," said Tom Tugendhat, the chairman of Britain's Foreign Affairs Committee.
"The definition of core and non-core is a very difficult one with 5G," he added.
Britain has conducted an "evidence-based review" of the 5G supply chain to make sure a secure base "now and in the future", a government spokesperson said on Wednesday.
5G, which will offer much quicker data speeds and turn out to be the foundation stone of a lot of industries and networks, is seen as one of the largest innovations since the birth of the internet itself a generation ago.
"There have been different approaches across the Five Eyes and across the allied wider Western alliance towards Huawei and towards other issues as well," said Ciaran Martin, head of the cyber center of Britain's main spying agency.
Head of the National Cyber Security Centre said Britain's decision would be publicized in due course.
Huawei's equipment does also not exist or is being stripped out of present core networks in Britain, but is broadly utilized in current lower risk parts such as radio masts.
The telecommunications equipment market is divided between three majors’ suppliers – Huawei, Sweden's Ericsson and Finland's Nokia – and network operators face any decrease that would limit rivalry among them.
Britain is a significant market for Huawei, and the Chinese firm welcomed the decision.
"We welcome reports that the UK government is moving towards allowing Huawei to help build the UK's 5G networks," a Huawei spokesman said.
"While we await a formal government announcement, we will continue work cooperatively with the government and the industry and their evidence-based approach to network security."