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Top British officials have decided to let the Chinese technology giant Huawei help develop an ultrafast 5G wireless network in the United Kingdom, according to reports, in spite of pressure by U.S. officials to freeze out the company on security grounds.

The leaked decision by the United Kingdom's National Security Council -- a panel led by Prime Minister Theresa May -- risks inflaming tensions between the U.K. and the Trump administration as Huawei flexes its muscles as the world's dominant supplier of telecom equipment. And it instantly created a political firestorm among members of Parliament determined to hunt down the source of the leak.

The U.K.'s decision to move forward with Huawei will not be official until it is announced by the secretary for digital culture and reported to Parliament. But the council's conclusion to let Huawei participate, even in a limited way, in the U.K. 5G rollout is a significant diplomatic defeat for the United States, which has argued that Huawei's networking equipment cannot be trusted -- and could be used for spying or to disrupt networks.

After the reports, White House national security council spokesman Garrett Marquis said on Twitter that the Trump administration is continuing to work "across government & with allies & partners to mitigate risk in the deployment of communications infrastructure."

He added: "As the President has said, '5G networks must be secure. They must be strong. They have to be guarded from the enemy -- we do have enemies out there ...'"

Some analysts said the U.K. decision sets a precedent that other countries are likely to follow.

"Now countries are less likely to do a complete ban," said James Lewis, a cyberpolicy expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who has followed the international 5G debate closely.

Lewis said it was still possible that the British decision, when it is announced, could reduce risk to a manageable level. "If the British implement their restrictions in a tough way, it's not a big deal. If they implement them in a soft way, then Huawei will be all over the network," he said.

For instance, Huawei will continue to be barred, as it is in the 4G networks, from the "core" of Britain's 5G network, which contains routers and switches handling massive volumes of traffic, officials said. The limitations are also expected to include geographic restrictions near sensitive networks.

But not all experts are so sure such restrictions will be sufficient.

Malcolm Turnbull, Australia's former prime minister, said that even if Huawei is limited to the network "edge," or where radio antennae connect with user devices, the risk is still there.

"With 5G, we have had to recognize that the core/edge distinction no longer exists," Turnbull said in a speech Thursday in New York. That is why Australia last year became the first nation to put in place new requirements on "high risk" vendors that effectively banned Huawei from the country's 5G network. Such vendors, the government determined, could be subject to directions from foreign intelligence services to act contrary to national security.

"Our decision was not taken lightly" or based on "near term threats," he said. Rather, it was "a long-term prudent hedge."

Reports indicated that several members of the security council, including the home, foreign and defense secretaries, had expressed reservations about the plan. The United Kingdom's Government Communications Headquarters intelligence service last month delivered a scathing assessment of Huawei security risks in the 4G networks. But, according to media reports, May gave the green light.

The decision was first reported Wednesday by The Daily Telegraph after May and other ministers on the council met to discuss Huawei's possible role in the 5G network.

Proponents of 5G say the wireless technology will lead to mobile download speeds of up to 100 times faster than what is found on the 4G LTE in many smartphones today. And, they say, it will pave the way for future technologies such as self-driving cars and a world of networked, smart appliances. The United States is racing against other countries to get a critical mass of consumers connected to 5G, in hope that U.S. businesses will be the ones to create the Uber and Spotify of the future.

Business on 04/26/2019

Print Headline: Huawei gets OK to take part in U.K.'s 5G rollout

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