Huawei is a leader in 5G network equipment, but many countries have banned the company’s equipment from their 5G networks.
The US has implemented a number of restrictions against Huawei and has asked several of its allies to join its ban against Huawei network equipment.
In July, the UK announced that mobile operators would not be allowed to add new Huawei components to their 5G networks from 1 January 2021.
All existing Huawei equipment will need to be removed from these 5G networks by 2027.
“The government has decided it is necessary to ban Huawei from our 5G networks,” said culture secretary Oliver Dowden.
“This decisive move provides the industry with the clarity and certainty it needs to get on with delivering 5G across the UK.”
In response, Huawei UK spokesperson Edward Brewster said that the decision was set to move Britain into the “digital slow lane”.
“Instead of ‘levelling up’, the government is levelling down and we urge them to reconsider,” said Brewster.
Brewster added that Huawei’s future in the UK has been compromised for political reasons.
“This is about US trade policy and not security,” he said.
The future of Huawei 5G network equipment in South Africa
The ban of Huawei network equipment in countries like the US and the UK has resulted in similar questions being asked in South Africa.
Huawei equipment is prevalent in local 5G networks and is a key part of bringing faster mobile connectivity to South Africans.
Given the security concerns and political controversy surrounding Huawei’s 5G equipment, many may wonder about the stance of South African networks towards Huawei 5G equipment.
MyBroadband asked the three primary consumer 5G network providers in South Africa – Vodacom, MTN, and Rain – what their stance was on Huawei’s 5G equipment given the latest developments in the UK.
Vodacom said that the UK’s decision to remove Huawei from its 5G network by 2027 should be viewed in the context of the UK’s unique geopolitical position and not extrapolated to other countries.
This includes its Five-Eyes membership, said Vodacom, which an intelligence alliance comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, and the US.
“To date, there has been no public documented evidence of any security issues with Huawei network equipment,” said a Vodacom spokesperson.
“We will continue to follow government guidelines and argue that decisions on vendors should be fact and risk-based.”
MTN South Africa’s executive for corporate affairs Jacqui O’Sullivan said that MTN has noted the developments in the UK and in other markets.
“MTN is aware of the security concerns and we conduct security assessments on an ongoing basis, both internally and through external security providers,” said O’Sullivan.
“We have put in place business continuity plans to ensure that the risks associated with different scenarios minimise the operational impact on the network.”
“MTN supports the principles of transparency and the establishment of independent security assessment bodies where relevant,” said O’Sullivan.
O’Sullivan also noted that while Huawei 5G equipment is deployed in part of its South African Radio Access Network, its 5G core network is Ericsson-based.
“Huawei is a network provider for MTN’s 5G network rollout but it is worth noting that MTN SA makes use of a number of network equipment providers and our voice and data mobile core is predominantly provided by Ericsson,” said O’Sullivan.
O’Sullivan also noted that MTN is part of a number of bodies including the GSMA and the Trustworthiness & Software Engineering Capability Transformation Technical Working Group.
The latter includes other telecommunications companies from Europe, UK, and the Middle East, as well as key security figures in academia.
“This forum is reviewing and providing input into the processes that Huawei has implemented in their secure development practices,” said O’Sullivan.
Rain Chief Marketing Officer Khaya Dlanga emphasised that the UK’s decision has no impact on South Africa.
“We are a South African company and adhere to the laws of our government,” said Dlanga.
Dlanga said Rain takes user privacy and security extremely seriously.
“We believe it is primarily the responsibility of the network operator to ensure that its network is secure, customer data is protected and compliance is in line with best-practice and the laws of the country,” he said.
“Rain has no reason to believe that Huawei equipment specifically carries increased security risks compared to other vendors.”