News

New Zealand says no to Spark’s wish to use Huawei 5G kit

SparkNZ.jpg

New Zealand’s government security authority has told local operator Spark that it cannot use Huawei kit in its 5G network.

Spark, the former Telecom New Zealand, put the statement out in a press release, saying the head of the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) “considers Spark’s proposal to use Huawei 5G equipment in Spark’s planned 5G RAN [radio access network] would, if implemented, raise significant national security risks.”

Spark said it was “disappointed with this decision” and said it would “review the detailed reasoning behind the director-general’s decision. Following our review, Spark will consider what further steps, if any, it will take.”

The Chinese vendor put a brave face on the announcement, implying that the decision might be up for further negotiation. “Huawei is aware of Spark’s statement, and we are looking into the situation. As the GCSB has noted, this is an ongoing process. We will actively address any concerns and work together to find a way forward.”

Andrew Hampton, the director-general of the GCSB, said that New Zealand law “requires network operators to notify GCSB of certain proposed decisions, courses of action, or changes to their network”.

He said: “I have informed Spark that a significant network security risk was identified.” He did not give any details of the risk. “As there is an ongoing regulatory process I will not be commenting further at this stage. The GCSB treats all notifications it receives as commercially sensitive.”

Huawei noted: “As a leading global supplier of telecoms equipment, we remain committed to developing trusted and secure solutions for our customers. Huawei’s 5G equipment is already being deployed by major carriers around the world, with whom we have signed more than 20 commercial 5G contracts. This alone is a testament to our position as a leading global supplier of 5G technology.”

Spark said it was “confident that the decision will not affect our plans to launch Spark’s 5G network by 1 July 2020, subject to the necessary spectrum being made available by the New Zealand Government”. It said it “will not be making any further comment on this matter”.

The GCSB – whose website bears the slogan “If New Zealand has secrets worth stealing, then they’re worth protecting” – notes that New Zealand is a member of the so-called “Five-Eyes” intelligence-sharing agreement involving the US, the UK, Australia and Canada.

The US and Australia have both banned operators from sourcing network equipment from Chinese vendors – ZTE as well as Huawei. As least two Canadian operators, Bell Canada and Telus, use Huawei network equipment. In the UK, BT’s EE demonstrated 5G services at a Huawei exhibition in London last week. 

New Zealanders responded negatively on social media to the GCSB decision. One wrote: “If the GCSB has evidence that Huawei is more of a risk than other vendors, they should make that evidence public. Otherwise this is just posturing,” and added: “GCSB dutifully compliant with their bosses in Maryland,” – a reference to the National Security Agency, the US end of the Five-Eyes agreement, based in Fort Meade, Maryland.

Liam Dann, business editor of the New Zealand Herald, wrote: “It’s also the one of the biggest diplomatic calls this country has made on China in 20 years so [it] seemed weird to find out via a Spark press release.”

Kim Dotcom, a European internet entrepreneur who now lives in New Zealand, wrote on Twitter: “US Empire demands and vassal state New Zealand complies not to use Chinese technology for its next generation 5G mobile infrastructure. Why? Western network suppliers provide equipment with built-in mass surveillance capabilities for US spy agencies.”