Huawei 5G ban not a full ban, just a tiny ban: GCSB minister

Huawei Spark 5G GCSB NZ
Image credit: Brian S / Shutterstock.com

New Zealand’s intelligence services minister has reportedly denied that the GCSB’s decision that Huawei’s 5G equipment poses a national security risk constitutes a full-on ban of the Chinese telecoms equipment vendor.

However, as far as incumbent telco Spark is concerned, the overall impact is the same: it will be unable to deploy Huawei equipment for its planned 5G rollout in 2020 unless it can resolve whatever concerns the GCSB has.

On Wednesday, Spark released a statement announcing that it had been informed by the GCSB that it regarded Huawei’s 5G RAN equipment – which the operator has been trialing since March this year – as a risk to national security:

The Director-General has informed Spark today that he considers Spark’s proposal to use Huawei 5G equipment in Spark’s planned 5G RAN would, if implemented, raise significant national security risks.

Under TICSA [the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Act 2013], this means Spark cannot implement or give effect to its proposal to use Huawei RAN equipment in its planned 5G network.

Speaking to the New Zealand Herald, GCSB minister Andrew Little stressed that the decision was not the equivalent of a full ban of Huawei similar to the one implemented by Australia, but was specific to Spark’s request to use Huawei’s 5G RAN equipment:

Little emphasised that the relevant security legislation is “project-based. We would never ban a particular company or a particular country. That’s not the way it works.”

[…]

He had no issue with Huawei gear that’s already in Spark and other telco’s networks or, potentially, Huawei different technology being used in future upgrades; Spark could still work with Huawei to address the security risk with 5G, the GCSB Minister said.

Spark said it is still reviewing the GCSB’s reasoning for its decision to see what steps it will take to resolve the issues. Huawei also said in a statement that it will work with Spark and the GCSB to address all concerns. Earlier Thursday, Huawei reportedly sought clarification from the GCSB on its decision.

The New Zealand Herald report says Little declined to give details about the implied national security issues, saying only that they were “technical” in nature.

He also said that 5G is different from 4G and 3G because it’s more difficult to isolate edge equipment such as RANs from the core network – a measure used to mitigate the installation of equipment from vendors deemed security risks.

Little also denied that the decision was the result of reported pressure from the US to block Huawei from 5G projects, the report said.

Whatever happens next, Spark said in its statement Wednesday that it doesn’t expect the GCSB decision to delay its scheduled launch of 5G services on July 1, 2020, pending the allocation of spectrum from the government.

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