NZ's Spark blocked from using Huawei gear for 5G

By Dylan Bushell-Embling
Thursday, 29 November, 2018

NZ's Spark blocked from using Huawei gear for 5G

New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) has rejected an application from telecoms service provider Spark to use Huawei equipment in its planned 5G network.

The decision has raised the prospect that New Zealand could follow Australia in banning the use of Chinese equipment in the nation’s 5G rollouts.

In a statement, Spark NZ revealed that it had notified the GCSB on its proposed approach to implementing a 5G upgrade on the Spark mobile network. The proposal involved deploying Huawei’s 5G equipment in Spark’s planned 5G radio access network (RAN).

But in a decision, the GCSB’s Director General Andrew Hampton denied the proposal on the grounds that he believes that it would “raise significant national security risks”.

Under New Zealand legislation, this effectively means that Spark will not be able to implement its proposal, and must come up with an alternative.

Hampton and the GCSB subsequently issued their own statement confirming the news.

“I can confirm the GCSB under its TICSA responsibilities has recently undertaken an assessment of a notification from Spark. I have informed Spark that a significant network security risk was identified,” he said.

But the GCSB has refused to provide the evidence behind its reasoning in the decision claiming that the information is classified. Huawei equipment was also widely used in New Zealand’s 4G rollouts, and former Prime Minister and GCSB Minister John Key had a policy of encouraging the use of Huawei equipment.

From the little information the agency has made publicly available, it appears that the nation’s officials, like their Australian counterparts, may be concerned that the physical design of 5G networks will blur the distinction between the network edge, where Huawei is a top vendor in the nation — and the far more critical network core.

But the timing of the decision has also left observers speculating that the ban may be politically rather than security motivated.

After itself banning the use of Huawei equipment by government workers and contractors earlier this year, the US government has been ramping up its pressure on its allies to institute their own bans on equipment provided by the vendor, according to a recently published Wall Street Journal report.

According to the report, the move is in part aimed at protecting the personal data of US troops serving overseas.

But because the US government has also presented little evidence to justify a ban, some analysts believe that the campaign against Huawei and ZTE could be another volley in the ongoing trade war between the US and China.

In statements to local media, Little denied that the decision was politically motivated and said the ban is due to technical issues, not to the fact that Huawei is a Chinese company.

He also said the decision is not final, and Spark will still have a chance to convince the GCSB that the risk it has identified can be mitigated.

Huawei has meanwhile issued its own statement indicating that the company is aware of the decision and is ready and willing to work with the GCSB and the government to put to rest any national security concerns.

“As the GCSB has noted, this is an ongoing process. We will actively address any concerns and work together to find a way forward. As a leading global supplier of telecoms equipment, we remain committed to developing trusted and secure solutions for our customers,” the statement read.

Image credit: ©

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