China’s Huawei Technologies Co. said it could take up to five years to fully address concerns raised by the U.K. government about its software and engineering processes.
The telecom giant also said in a letter to the U.K. Parliament that its board of directors has signed off on a companywide overhaul of its software engineering, budgeting $2 billion over five years for the effort.
Huawei has been seeking to reassure the world that its gear is safe amid renewed concerns from a series of Western governments. Its letter follows a report from a U.K. lab that publicly flagged technical shortcomings in Huawei software that the lab tests for security vulnerabilities. The lab, jointly overseen by U.K. authorities and Huawei, said the shortcomings involved a discrepancy between software tested in the lab and Huawei’s real-world software.
The letter also addressed broader questions about the security of Huawei gear and a campaign to block Huawei from participating in the rollout of fifth-generation wireless networks in Western countries.
“It is true that Huawei’s software engineering has room for improvement,” Ryan Ding, the head of Huawei’s carrier business, wrote in the letter dated Jan. 29 and made public this week, but he said the “operational quality and performance of our products on live networks are top in the industry.”
Mr. Ding’s letter comes as Huawei battles an unprecedented campaign led by U.S. officials to keep Huawei gear out of the rollout of allied 5G networks. Huawei, the world’s largest maker of telecommunications equipment and the No. 2 global vendor of smartphones, is also involved in a clutch of legal fights including the arrest of its chief financial officer in Canada and an indictment alleging theft of trade secrets in the U.S.
Huawei has been effectively banned from selling its telecom gear in the U.S. since a 2012 Congressional report raised concerns its equipment could be used by Beijing to spy on Americans or disrupt telecom networks. Privately held Huawei has long maintained its gear is safe, that it operates independently of Beijing and that it is owned by its employees.
The past year has seen more Western countries propose or issue new restrictions on the sale of Huawei’s 5G gear. Australia and New Zealand have moved to block the use of Huawei equipment in their 5G rollouts. The U.K., meanwhile, has launched a review of its telecom-equipment supply chain, which is studying whether the major presence of Huawei equipment in British networks represents a national-security threat, people familiar with the matter said.
Still, Huawei remains a major supplier of networking technology in those countries. Mr. Ding, in the letter addressed to the chair of a Parliament science and technology committee, compared its software-improvement efforts to “replacing components on a high-speed train in motion,” saying tangible results could take at least three to five years. “We hope the U.K. government can understand this.”
Mr. Ding also sought to address a Chinese law that requires Chinese organizations and citizens to cooperate in national intelligence work. That law and others are a source of concern for Western officials, who think Chinese firms have no choice but to comply with Communist Party directives.
China has said it has no rule that forces its tech companies to install backdoors in their products. In his letter, Mr. Ding said that interpretation of Chinese law was confirmed by the Zhong Lun law firm, one of China’s largest law firms, and reviewed by the international law firm Clifford Chance.
“We believe that excluding a certain country or vendor does nothing to help effectively manage cybersecurity,” Mr. Ding said.
British intelligence leaders, however, disagree with that assessment, believing that Chinese companies cannot refuse an order from Beijing, the people familiar with the matter said. But rather than outright banning Huawei equipment, U.K. officials would prefer to require all telecom-equipment vendors, including Western ones such as Ericsson AB and Nokia Corp. , to raise their security standards, the people said.
The British government, in reviewing Huawei’s major presence in U.K. networks, is weighing national-security concerns and economic concerns, such as the possibility that Britain’s economy would suffer if the Chinese company’s technology were banned from the country, those people said.
The U.K. was one of the first Western markets where Huawei found success, and the Chinese company is eager to hold on to its gains there. Last month, Gavin Patterson, the outgoing CEO of BT Group Plc., called Huawei “a good supplier to us for 10 years.” The company was one of Huawei’s earliest U.K. customers and is the largest wireless carrier in the country by subscribers. Mr. Patterson said the Chinese company would remain a supplier for the access part of BT’s 5G network rollout.
—Stu Woo contributed to this article.
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