Huawei wants another shot at 5G in NZ

Chinese telco Huawei wants another shot at building Spark’s 5G network and is calling on the Government and the GCSB to be more upfront about its reasons for barring the network. 

Huawei NZ deputy managing director Andrew Bowater told Newsroom another network proposal could be submitted to the GCSB for approval in as little as two months’ time.

New Zealand’s Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Act or TICSA requires telcos to submit network proposals to the GCSB, the nation’s spy agency, which is tasked with ensuring they do not compromise national security.

Last year, Spark’s proposal to use Huawei technology in its 5G network was declined, with the GCSB citing “significant national security risks”. These specific risks were not identified, but reporting from other countries in the Five Eyes intelligence sharing agreement suggests the concerns included a fear that ties between the Chinese government and Huawei could compromise national security. 

China’s National Intelligence Law has also been cited as a concern for the way it could be used to request private firms and citizens gather intelligence on behalf of the state. 

Subsequent reporting in The Sydney Morning Herald said Five Eyes spy agencies had coordinated an effort to bar Huawei from 5G.

Huawei NZ deputy managing director Andrew Bowater told Newsroom he would like the Government and the GCSB to be more transparent about the reasons for the company being blocked. He told Newsroom he would like to see a way forward for Huawei to participate in the rollout of 5G in New Zealand. 

The TICSA legislation does provide Huawei with a way out. There are several stages of appeal, where Spark and Huawei can work with the GCSB to mitigate concerns raised. However, Spark’s decision to put out a press release noting the deal had been blocked has been interpreted as a tacit admission that the concerns raised by the GCSB were difficult to overcome.

Michelle Baguley, lead corporate relations partner at Spark told Newsroom the company remained committed to its goal of rolling out 5G by July 2020, but could not comment about what that network might look like.

“No decisions have been made,” she said.

“Our name has been sullied”

Bowater told Newsroom his company had been treated unfairly and was concerned that the process used by the GCSB unfairly smeared Huawei technology. He said if the GCSB’s concerns were related to geo-politics rather than technology, the organisation should be more up front in telling people. 

“If it’s geo-political, they should be transparent,” Bowater said.

“In fairness to Huawei, it would be good to have some clarity. There has been no evidence produced that we’ve done anything wrong.”

Bowater said he had been “disappointed” at the level of engagement, as it meant the firm could not actively work to mitigate concerns, however TICSA legislation mandates the GSCB manage concerns with the telco (in this case Spark) rather than the technology provider.

“From a tech perspective, there’s no evidence to block us. Our name has been sullied… it’s commercially unfair,” he said.

Bowater said Huawei stood ready to mitigate concerns raised by the GCSB. He said the company’s structure already provided security that the technology operated independently of Chinese government interference.

All technology used in the network was vetted at the Cyber Security Evaluation Centre lab, which was operated by GCHQ, the UK spy agency. Bowater said the GCHQ’s implicit seal of approval should give New Zealand confidence in the security of the technology. 

However the centre's most recent report on Huawei said it could only provide "limited assurance that all risks to UK national security from Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s critical networks have been sufficiently mitigated".

Bowater said Huawei could also offer other concessions, like barring foreign nationals from working on certain parts of its network. Huawei had roughly 150 New Zealand-based staff, of whom 80 percent were local. 

5G will be made in China regardless 

Bowater said he hoped other providers would be treated on level terms. While component manufacturers such as Cisco and Ericsson were headquartered in the US and Europe, like Huawei they made components in China, he said.

“5G will be made in China regardless.”

“Just because we have our HQ there, it doesn’t make us any different to our competitors,” he said. 

To keep 5G on track for a 2020 rollout, Bowater said it was likely a new plan would need to be submitted to the GCSB shortly.

Spark would not confirm what it’s next move on 5G will be. It could apply to mitigate concerns raised under TICSA, or it could submit a wholly new network and begin the process again. 

GCSB Minister Andrew Little is travelling and could not be reached for comment.

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