Huawei’s expulsion from the UK’s 5G networks explained – The Computer Weekly Downtime Upload Podcast

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In this week’s episode of the Computer Weekly Downtime Upload podcast, Caroline Donnelly, Clare McDonald and Brian McKenna discuss the implications of the decision to shut Huawei out of UK telecoms, women in software development, new visa rules for IT workers post-Brexit, and the government’s elevation of data analytics

In this week’s episode of the Computer Weekly Downtime Upload podcast, Clare McDonald, Caroline Donnelly and Brian McKenna discuss the implications of the decision to shut Huawei out of UK telecoms, women in software development, the fine detail of the new visa rules for IT workers post-Brexit, and the government’s privileging of data analytics in its declared drive to revolutionise the state and society.

  • Caroline takes a break from tax and datacentres on the podcast this week, and gives a run-down on the expulsion from the UK telecoms garden of Huawei, which has been part of the garden furniture for decades.
  • Joe O’Halloran and Alex Scroxton have covered Huawei extensively and intensively for CW, and it’s Joe who has written up the most recent travails of the “workers and peasants” 5G technology supplier, which has benefited from the R&D investment of the Chinese state.
  • Last week, Oliver Dowden, secretary of state for culture, media and sport, announced that the government wants all Huawei kit out of the UK’s telecoms infrastructure by 2027 and, from the end of 2020, UK telecoms suppliers will be banned from buying Huawei 5G equipment. This is a reversal of the previous policy, whereby Huawei would be excluded from the core 5G network, but remain in the radio network and seems to be a consequence of US sanctions on Huawei, which has hampered it from buying supplies from US companies, and so rendered its technology potentially insecure and non-resilient in the future.
  • It is reckoned, notes Caroline, that this will set back 5G adoption in the UK by two to three years and will cost UK telecoms in the region of £2bn plus.
  • The team then has a knockabout, non-expert discussion in which it dawns that this decision might drive up all our mobile bills. It is also noted that Huawei would argue that the UK government’s decision is political, not technical, driven by the currently anti-China policy of the US administration. But what if that changes? Will the UK be left looking foolish as the Americans and the Chinese make up after their break-up?
  • As Caroline notes, there is a US presidential election afoot, and all could change. Time will tell.
  • Clare and Brian both stick to their beats on this podcast, and Clare first talks about the 2020 Women in Software Power list that emanates from the Makers boot-camp software academy.
  • The list seeks to identify the top 30 rising stars among women software developers, and this is its second year, says Clare. It wants to make role models visible, as with the Computer Weekly Most Influential Women in UK tech list, although the Makers list is more focused on early-career women IT professionals.
  • Clare then moves on to talk about government clarification of visa rules for IT professionals, part of which stipulates salary levels in specific roles in order to stay in the UK post-Brexit. For instance, IT directors could be expected to earn at least £56,100 for their salary to count towards points for a UK work visa.
  • While this seems reasonable (maybe even on the low side for a CIO), Brian speculates that more junior IT workers might struggle to hit these going rates for their roles.
  • Moving from one specific government policy to the role of data in government, Brian then talks about what, in his opinion, is the strange politicisation of open data and data analytics by, first, David Cameron when he became prime minister in 2011, and now by Dominic Cummings and Michael Gove (respectively, special adviser to the PM and cabinet secretary).
  • The latest development demonstrating Number 10’s seeming fascination with data analytics is the creation of a new job, head of the Number 10 Analytical Unit (paid up to £135,000), whose goal is, according to the advert on gov.uk, to establish “No10’s quantitative ability, helping to drive change across Whitehall through the establishment of a newly formed team: 10 ‘Data Science’. Sitting in No 10, this unit will transform how we use data to facilitate more effective decision-making at the centre and across government”.
  • The team discussed Cummings’ new year blogpost, in which he called for “assorted weirdos” to join him in using data science to transform Whitehall, on their first podcast of 2020, and revisit that a bit in this episode.
  • Brian says Cameron and Cummings seem to have in common a politicisation of data (of open data publication in Cameron’s case and data analytics in Cummings’), which most likely tends to frustrate what they are trying to achieve. In particular, Cummings and Gove seem intent on a war against the upper echelons of the civil service, whom they consider to be from the wrong academic background – that is to say arts and humanities and not science. A background they share.
  • Clare points out that it’s usually better to have a good balance in organisations between arts and science – and Brian says that is what CW has.
  • The detail of Brian’s account and argument can be found in a blog post, The UK government’s weaponization of data analytics. And, yes, he says he knows it should be spelt with an S.
  • Brian brings the podcast to a close with reference to the role that government-backed data science might play in the post-crisis phase of the Covid-19 pandemic. This comes in the form of a forecasting tool, based on machine learning applied to the NHS Covid-19 data store. The tool has been developed by Faculty, in tandem with US data specialist Palantir. The data store has not been uncontroversial.

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Podcast music courtesy of Joseph McDade

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