The National Cyber Security Centre (part of GCHQ) is the UK’s authority on cyber security. Its main purpose is to reduce the cyber security risk to the UK by improving its cyber security and cyber resilience.
On 16th April 2018, the NCSC announced that its Technical Director, Dr Ian Levy, would be writing to UK telecoms companies, Ofcom and Chinese state-owned supplier ZTE regarding the potential use of ZTE equipment and services in the UK telecommunications infrastructure environment.
I’ll come on to what was in the letter in a moment. Firstly, let’s get an idea of the scale of this issue with a snapshot of ZTE’s position in the telecoms market. According to a press release ZTE published on 12th April 2018, telecoms networking market research conducted by Ovum contained the following findings about ZTE’s market share and growth.
- Optical Networking market share – #2 by market share and #1 by growth
- High-Speed Optics (100Gbps ports) – #2 by market share #1 by port shipment growth
- Core IP/MPLS Switching & Routing –#4 by market share
- Edge IP/MPLS – #1 by growth
Returning to the advice provided by the NCSC, having seen the letter, The Financial Times reported that it included the statement
“the use of ZTE equipment or services within existing telecommunications infrastructure would present risk to UK national security that could not be mitigated effectively or practicably”.
The reason why isn’t given, but as our national security depends on the stability and security of our telecoms, the NCSC is responsible for identifying and mitigating the effect of any factor that puts this at risk.
You might be thinking that this is ‘only’ about which suppliers telcos use to build their core networks, so it is unlikely to affect your organisation, but ZTE is also one of the world’s fastest-growing mobile OEMs. According to Jeff Yee, ZTE Vice President of Mobile Devices Marketing, speaking to Forbes.com last year, ZTE “is the 4th-largest phone brand (12.2% market share) in North America, behind Apple, Samsung and LG”. As an outcome of its core strategy of “ACW – America, China, Worldwide” we can expect to see more ZTE devices in the UK, particularly when it launches its 5G models towards the end of next year.
This is all pretty heady stuff – imagine the furore if the NCSC’s advice had been about a British, European or North American vendor! Doubtless ZTE will respond in due course, but for now the advice is clear and unequivocal. Although Intercity has not supplied ZTE handsets to its customers, it’s possible that you may have purchased your own using an equipment fund and then transferred your SIM to it.