Olivier Le Moal - stock.adobe.co
Vodafone defends its use of Huawei as 5G trials go live
As Vodafone begins trials of a live 5G service in Bristol, Cardiff and Liverpool, the operator’s CTO and general counsel have defended their use of Huawei equipment in Vodafone’s network and challenged its detractors to produce evidence of spying
Removing Huawei equipment from Vodafone’s UK mobile network – if Westminster was to enact a ban on its use in critical national infrastructure – would cost millions of pounds and cause significant disruption to the roll-out of 5G mobile networks in Britain, according to the operator’s UK chief technology officer Scott Petty.
At an event today, Petty said any hypothetical ban would have a significant impact on the operator because the first iterations of 5G will be running in non-standalone mode, meaning they need 4G to be in place behind it in order to work.
“If we were forced to remove Huawei from the network, we would be forced to go to the 32% of base stations that are currently using Huawei for radio and replace all of those with somebody else’s technology, and then deploy 5G on top of that,” he said.
“The cost of doing that runs into hundreds of millions and would dramatically affect our 5G business case. We would have to slow down deployment of 5G very significantly to go back and refresh our 4G network first to be able to overlay our 5G technology.
“We think that’s the wrong thing to do because it’s an area of the network that has very low risk and very low impact. We should be able to continue to work with Huawei in radio technology,” he said.
Vodafone’s general counsel and director of external affairs, Helen Lamprell, added: “Nothing we have seen suggests that that’s a proportionate response. We’ve not seen any evidence of security flaws and we’ve not seen any evidence of backdoors into the network. I don’t think anybody has put any evidence on the table.
“There would be a huge impact on the government’s ambition to be a leader in 5G – a huge cost to the industry, and for what?” said Lamprell. “If there’s evidence, we’d love to see it, but so far, we haven’t.”
Read more about the Huawei affair
- Huawei has filed a lawsuit accusing Washington of violating the US Constitution by banning it from government contracts.
- US secretary of state Mike Pompeo has reinforced his attacks on Huawei as the firm apparently prepares to sue the US government over its federal-level ban.
- US secretary of state Mike Pompeo has said America may scale back or cut military and diplomatic ties with countries that use Huawei equipment in national 5G networks.
- NCSC CEO uses cyber security conference in Brussels to set out his agency’s position on Brexit, 5G security, Huawei, market incentives and international cooperation on active cyber defence.
- A think-tank report has branded the UK government naïve at best, irresponsible at worst, over its use of Chinese networking equipment in critical national infrastructure.
- Huawei CEO Ren Zhengfei has taken a more combative stance in the ongoing row over the firm’s alleged links to the Chinese intelligence services.
- The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre suggests Huawei will be allowed to form core elements of the country’s 5G mobile network infrastructure after all.
- Huawei’s Ryan Ding tells the British government that the company has never, and will never, use its technology to assist the Chinese intelligence services.
- Malaysia has become the latest country to look into the security concerns surrounding Huawei, which has been accused by mostly western powers of conducting corporate espionage.
- Vodafone’s UK CEO has said the operator will “pause” its use of Huawei hardware for the foreseeable future.
- The chair of the cross-bench Science and Technology Committee has written to Huawei seeking answers over its activities in the UK.
- Huawei’s rotating chairman Guo Ping outlines the firm’s priorities to optimise its product portfolio, empower employees and build a more resilient business structure.
- While the number of countries with Huawei bans in place grows and more issue warnings, a German investigation found no evidence of spying to support the fear.
- The Chinese government has called for the release of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, who was detained in Canada at the weekend.
- BT will remove Huawei’s networking equipment from the core of EE’s 4G mobile network.
Working alongside the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), Vodafone has conducted extensive risk assessments of how its network might be exposed to the possibility of penetration, or an outright attack, by Chinese intelligence if there was a threat from Huawei.
To assess this risk, Vodafone breaks its network into three constituent parts: the radio access network (RAN), meaning its mobile base stations, where the risk of data being exposed is low; the transport network, meaning its fibre backhaul, where the risk is higher; and the core network, where the risk is highest.
Just under a third of Vodafone’s existing 4G base stations are based on Huawei equipment, with the rest using a mixture of Nokia and Ericsson. The transport and core networks have no exposure to Huawei and this will remain the case on the future 5G network, said Petty. The operator also incorporates equipment from Ciena, Cisco and Juniper into its network.
“Our belief is that by having a healthy supplier ecosystem with the right levels of interoperability and security between them – and our risk assessment based on the guidance from the NCSC – we can create an infrastructure where we can leverage Huawei so it can sense and protect the important parts of our network,” said Petty.
Petty and Lamprell were speaking as news broke that Huawei has filed a lawsuit in the US, claiming the American government’s ban on the use of its equipment and services within federal agencies is unconstitutional.
Meanwhile, Vodafone today announced it has switched on live trial 5G sites in Bristol, Cardiff and Liverpool, connected to its RedStream fibre network, in addition to ongoing tests in Birmingham, Glasgow and London. The test service is capable of delivering speeds of up to 10Gbps.
The operator also revealed today that it will be launching commercial 5G services in 12 more towns and cities this year. These are Birkenhead, Blackpool, Bournemouth, Guildford, Newbury, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Reading, Southampton, Stoke-on-Trent, Warrington and Wolverhampton.