Huawei launches media blitz as UK weighs its role in 5G networks

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Huawei is launching a newspaper and internet campaign to mark 20 years of business in the UK.

In an open letter to the public, the Chinese telecoms company says it is “as committed as ever” to provide “the best equipment” to the UK’s 5G mobile and full-fibre broadband providers.

It comes amid a new security review that could lead the UK government to ban use of Huawei’s 5G network kit.

Huawei’s local boss said he expects the UK to act in the nation’s interests.

The initiative follows a report in Saturday’s Daily Telegraph, which said London-headquartered bank HSBC fears it could face reprisals in China, if the UK acts against Huawei.

The Sunday Times also reported that China’s ambassador to the UK had recently told business leaders that Beijing viewed the matter as “a litmus test of whether Britain is a true and faithful partner”.

Victor Zhang, vice president of Huawei and head of its UK operations, told the BBC the advertising campaign was about giving people the facts amid all the “noise” surrounding the company.ADVERTISEMENT

He said he hoped the UK would take an “evidence and fact-based approach” and warned of huge economic impact if greater connectivity was delayed by the company’s exclusion, potentially running into the tens of billions of pounds of lost productivity benefits.

“We need to work closely to address the issue, but we need to take action to accelerate the broadband deployment,” he said. “We don’t have time to delay this.”

Two decades

Huawei’s first significant global breakthrough came in the UK in 2005, when it signed a deal to upgrade BT’s copper broadband service, five years after having entered the market.

Huawei's store in Beijing advertising 5G
Image captionTwo of the UK’s mobile operators now need to remove Huawei equipment from their networks in order to meet the 35% cap imposed by the government

And 15 years later, the UK government’s decision to allow Huawei a role in the country’s 5G mobile networks represented another crucial victory.

In January, ministers announced that Huawei’s market share would be capped at 35%, and it would be excluded from sensitive locations, as well as the so-called “core” of the network, which is likened to the brains of the system.

It appeared that the Chinese tech giant had avoided the outright ban that the US had been pressing for, on the grounds that the firm poses a national security risk.

But a backbench rebellion by Conservative MPs in March and then the coronavirus crisis have heightened political pressure for the UK to be less dependent on China.

And Washington’s campaign has also not relented since January’s decision, despite Huawei’s repeated denials that it would ever compromise its clients.

In May, the US placed significant new sanctions on the company, which limits its access to American computer chip technology.

“We think this decision will heavily impact on the global supply chain of the semiconductor industry,” Mr Zhang told the BBC. “We need to work out a solution.”

Image captionHuawei spells out the benefits it presents the UK in the ad pegged to its 20th anniversary

Mr Zhang said that it was still too early for the company to draw any conclusion about the impact, and promised to share details of its own review when complete.

However, the sanctions prompted the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) to carry out its own review.

NCSC is expected to report in the coming weeks, and may say it has lost confidence it can manage the risks associated with Huawei being involved in 5G.

That could open the way for the government to shift its position to further reducing, or even eventually eliminating Huawei’s role.

That could be costly to mobile operators, leading to higher bills for customers. It could also mean their rollout of 5G in the UK is slower.

The advertising campaign also highlights Huawei’s support of British universities and other institutions, which might also be affected, were the company to be blocked.

“We believe the UK will definitely review this based on the facts and the evidence, because the UK will take its own interests very seriously,” Mr Zhang said.

‘Trail of blood’

The founder of Huawei, Ren Zhengfei was reported by the Wall Street Journal on Saturday to have told staff in 2018 that the company was in a battle with the US and they should “surge forward, killing as you go, to blaze us a trail of blood”.

Ren Zhengfei, founder of Huawei
Image captionHuawei’s founder Ren Zhengfei

Asked about the language, Mr Zhang said it reflected a sense that Huawei was under intense attack from the United States.

“We are very vulnerable and we know America tried to attack Huawei with so called security reasons which are actually totally wrong,” he said.

“It is simply because of trade and protectionism.”

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