US grants Huawei stay of execution

US Commerce Department temporarily restores Huawei’s ability to maintain its existing networks and smartphone user base

The US Department of Commerce has created a 90-day temporary general licence (TGL) that restores licensing requirements and policies under its export administration regulations to a number of businesses banned from the US under an executive order last week, in effect enabling Chinese networking supplier Huawei to continue maintaining its existing business until mid-August 2019.

The temporary stay enables Huawei to engage in any transactions “necessary to maintain and support existing and currently fully operational networks and equipment, including software updates and patches”.

It also allows Huawei to provide support to its smartphone customers, gives it access to relevant security vulnerability disclosures, and allows international standards bodies such as the IEEE and the GSMA to engage with it, as necessary, over the development of 5G mobile network standards.

US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross said: “The TGL grants operators time to make other arrangements and the department space to determine the appropriate long-term measures for Americans and foreign telecommunications providers that currently rely on Huawei equipment for critical services.”

This follows an executive order signed by US president Donald Trump that effectively enacted a total ban on any Huawei activities in the US. This, in turn, prompted Google to expel Huawei from the Android mobile operating system (OS) ecosystem.

The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), which conducts substantial, in-depth reporting on potential network security threats emanating from Huawei, said it was assessing the implications of the TGL, and in the meantime had published guidance for users of Huawei smartphones on its website.

“Customers should continue to update their devices as normal, in line with existing NCSC advice,” said a spokesperson for the organisation. “Our advice will be updated if we become aware of any security concerns.”

Based on currently available information – allegedly leaked by former defence secretary Gavin Williamson – the UK government is likely to take the position that UK operators will be permitted to use Huawei equipment in non-core parts of their future 5G networks.

It is not yet known how, or if, the latest developments in the long-running affair over Huawei’s ability and willingness to act as an agent for the Chinese intelligence services will affect any decision that Westminster has taken, or will take.

Meanwhile, Huawei’s leadership has ramped up its rhetoric in response to the actions taken by the US. In statements reported by the BBC, company founder Ren Zhengfei said that the US “underestimates our strength”.

Recent developments in the Huawei affair

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