Vodafone suspends use of Huawei hardware

Vodafone’s UK CEO has said the operator will ‘pause’ its use of Huawei hardware for the foreseeable future

In another blow to beleaguered network hardware supplier Huawei, mobile network operator Vodafone has become the latest firm to publicly announce it is suspending its use of Huawei’s equipment in its core network in Spain and a number of other markets.

China-based Huawei has been fighting a rear-guard action in recent months, prompted in parts by concerns in the US and its key Five Eyes allies (Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK) that its network hardware – which plays a vital role in mobile networks all over the world – may be being used by Chinese intelligence agencies to conduct surveillance and espionage activities, possibly even with Huawei’s willing consent, although Huawei denies this.

Speaking earlier, Vodafone UK CEO Nick Jeffery said: “We have decided to pause further Huawei in our core while we engage with the various agencies and governments and Huawei just to finalise the situation, of which I feel Huawei is really open and working hard.”

The core network, which is distinct from Vodafone’s public-facing masts and 4G radio transmission network upon which its subscribers rely, ultimately forms the backbone of its mobile service, and would therefore be considered the most security-sensitive part of any mobile network.

While Huawei kit does also form part of some of Vodafone’s radio networks, if there was a threat it would be less severe – as well as a nightmare for an operator to have to replace, Read noted – so this equipment will remain in place.

Read insisted that no western government had brought any pressure to bear on Vodafone over its use of Huawei equipment, however, he noted, the increasingly public debate around Huawei meant it was sensible to ascertain the true facts of the situation.

In an official statement, a Huawei spokesperson said: “Vodafone and Huawei are long-term strategic partners that have worked together since 2007. Huawei is focused on supporting Vodafone’s 5G network roll outs, of which the core is a small proportion.

“We are grateful to Vodafone for its support of Huawei and we will endeavour to live up to the trust placed in us.”

Towards the end of 2018, BT said it would be stripping Huawei equipment from EE’s core 4G network and would not incorporate it into its future 5G network at this time.

Other Huawei partners have taken similar action – in the UK, these include the University of Oxford and Queens University Belfast, both of which have long-standing research and development (R&D) partnerships with the firm, and even the Prince of Wales’ Prince’s Trust youth charity, which Huawei has been supporting for more than 10 years.

Earlier in January 2019, Norman Lamb MP, chairman of the cross-bench Science and Technology Committee, wrote to Huawei seeking answers to questions over its ability and propensity to assist the Chinese government with intelligence-gathering activities in the UK.

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