Huawei willing to fund security checks as way to Swedish 5G

Exclusive: Huawei willing to fund security checks as way to Swedish 5G

11 January 2021 | Alan Burkitt-Gray

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Huawei is willing to fund exhaustive security checks of its equipment in Sweden as a way of allowing operators to bid for 5G licences using its kit.

The model for the project would be the so-called Cell in Banbury in the UK, where cyber security experts check all Huawei hardware and software before allowing it into UK fixed and mobile networks.

The Cell is funded 100% by Huawei but all its staff are employed by the UK security services attached to Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the spy centre in Cheltenham.

Huawei has sued the regulator, Post- och telestyrelsen (PTS), to attempt to persuade it to postpone its 5G auction, which is due to start next week. PTS had said that no company with Huawei equipment in its network could bid for spectrum. After court action PTS paused the auction but now wants to resume it. 

“We’ve said to the [Swedish] government and to PTS that we are willing to meet extraordinary security requirements in terms of transparency,” said Kenneth Fredriksen (pictured), Huawei’s executive vice president for Central East Europe and the Nordic region, speaking to Capacity this morning.

He was answering a question from Capacity about whether Huawei would be willing to fund a Banbury-style operation in order to check hardware and software before installation in networks.

Three companies want to install Huawei systems in their 5G networks: Tele2 and Telenor — which propose a shared network — and CK Hutchison’s Three.

Tele2 and Telenor joined Huawei last year in the action against PTS and Three “is running their own court case”, said Fredriksen.

But Huawei and the operators want to move the issue away from the courts, he added, so that operators can have “a pragmatic discussion” about security. “If it has to stay in the courts, you should wait until the court has made up its mind” before running the auction.

Operators were “taken by surprise” by the decision to block Huawei, he said, after they had already factored in the cost of equipment into their spectrum auction budget.

“Given the size of the investment, we believe it is the right thing to do to wait.” At the moment “there is so much uncertainty. The best thing to do is to wait. It’s huge investments being made.”

PTS might get higher prices for the spectrum if it delayed the auction, he suggested. Running an auction when there is uncertainty “could even lead to a longer delay for 5G in Sweden”.

Capacity has contacted PTS for its comment on the situation, but the regulator said on 18 December that the auction will resume on Tuesday 19 January for spectrum in the 2.3GHz and 3.5GHz bands, “pending the judicial review of PTS’s decision” to block Huawei. Fredriksen said: “We have appealed to the highest court.”

Huawei has 5G contracts with Swedish operators before the October 2020 decision to block the company’s products. It also has 5G customers in Finland, Iceland and Norway, Fredriksen added.

The Cell in Banbury — officially the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC) — is run by the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), part of GCHQ. It started in 2010 and is staffed by security-vetted cyber security experts but all costs are met by Huawei.

The NCSC has produced six annual reports about its work, some of which have been critical about Huawei’s software engineering standards — but the Cell has reported no security threats.