Chi Onwurah MP said the government should take an “active strategy” to developing alternatives to Huawei
As part of an exclusive interview with Total Telecom at a UK Fibre Connectivity Forum event on Monday, Chi Onwurah MP, Shadow Minister Digital, Science & Technology said that the current political climate has left the government with little room to manoeuvre over Huawei.
“Given the concerns about national security and the evolving geopolitical relationship with China… I think the government does not have much choice,” she said, noting that “there is certainly a dependency relationship between Huawei and the Chinese government.”
She said that the real error, however, was allowing the UK networks to become so dependent on individual vendors in the first place, arguing that the government should have better supported the wider ecosystem in the past, especially home-grown tech solutions.
“We have to take an active strategy to minimise disruption,” she said. “National security has to come first. But I want to see the government set out a diversification strategy that not only supports national security but also supports our technological sovereignty. This should be an opportunity for UK telecoms, but its not – it’s turning into an opportunity for existing telecoms companies.”
When asked if Open RAN could be a fitting alternative and whether the government should support such efforts, Onwurah was clear that interoperability and related standards would be key to ensuring greater network security and operator flexibility in future. Despite recently announcing £250 million in funding to diversify the 5G ecosystem, an even more “active strategy” needs to be employed to accelerate these technologies, she said.
“I think the government should be doing much more to support the movement towards open RAN, or anything that supports interoperability and standards,” said Onwurah.
Finally, speaking on the topic of 5G misinformation, Onwurah said there had been a “general failure to communicate on technology, in particular telecoms technology”, hence leaving the door open for the development of wild conspiracy theories.
“There’s been a particular failing when it comes to digital skills and digital education,” she said, once again arguing that the government has to be more active in its attempts to solve these crucial issues.
“The government’s scheme to encourage small business to be cyber-aware has been taken up by about 30,000 businesses – but we have about 3 million in the country. There simply isn’t enough proactive engagement,” she said.
Ultimately, if the country as a whole is going to embrace the economic potential of 5G, then the technology needs to be communicated in a way that makes it more accessible and less esoteric. The public need to feel that 5G is working for them, not simply for the operators.
“5G shouldn’t be something that’s scaring people, it should be something people feel in control of,” Onwurah concluded.
Chi Onwurah was interviewed by Harry Baldock as part of her presentation to the UK Fibre Connectivity Forum – follow it on Twitter