GCSB folds under five eyes pressure

Published on the 29/11/2018 | Written by Heather Wright

Andrew Hampton_GCSB

Spark, Huawei, you and I pay price for political expediency…

New Zealand is following in Australia’s lead, with the Government Communications Security Bureau today declining a proposal by Spark to use Huawei 5G equipment, citing ‘significant national security risks’.

Spark announced this afternoon that its proposal, which would have seen Huawei 5G equipment used for its Radio Access Network which involves technology associated with cell tower infrastructure, has been rejected by the GCSB.

“I have informed Spark that a significant network security risk was identified.”

Governments around the world, particularly those in the Five Eyes network, have reportedly been facing pressure from the United States to axe Huawei – the world’s biggest network equipment manufacturer – from network builds. Australia banned Huawei from bidding for 5G contracts earlier this year, after previously banning the company from participating in NBN contracts in 2012.

The United States has claimed repeatedly that the telecommunications giant is a ‘security threat’ due to the potential for Chinese government interference. The suggestions have been vigorously denied by Huawei, which says the ‘issues [are] based on politics, rumour and innuendo’.

Huawei equipment already powers a sizeable amount of New Zealand’s telco infrastructure, including parts of the UFB network, Spark’s 3G/4G mobile network, 2degrees mobile network and Vodafone’s HFC cable network.

“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,” Spark said this afternoon.

“…this means Spark cannot implement or give effect to its proposal to use Huawei RAN equipment in its planned 5G network.”

Andrew Hampton, director-general of the GCSB, confirmed that “I have informed Spark that a significant network security risk was identified.”

Network operators are required to notify the GCSB of certain proposed actions or changes to their network under the Telecommunications Interception Capability and Security Act.

The decision appears to have been made without any Huawei, which has been operating in New Zealand since 2005, being consulted or involved in any discussions or questioning with Andrew Bowater, Huawei New Zealand deputy managing director, saying Huawei NZ hasn’t had any formal notification or contact from the GCSB.

“At this stage the GCSB and Ministers have not engaged with Huawei in this process,” Bowater says.

“In the interests of natural justice and fairness, Huawei is seeking an urgent meeting with the relevant ministers and officials to understand the Government’s position and get clarification of the process from here,” he says.

“There has been no evidence of wrongdoing by Huawei presented and we strongly reject the notion that our business threatens New Zealand in anyway. We deserve the opportunity to have our voice heard and to address any concerns in good faith.”

Spark says it hasn’t had an opportunity to review the detailed reasoning behind the Director-General’s decision, but once a review has been completed it will consider what steps, if any, it will take.

“While we are disappointed with this decision, we are confident that the decision will not affect our plans to launch Spark’s 5G network by 1 July 2020, subject to the necessary spectrum being made available by the New Zealand Government.”

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