Updates to this story
The partnership will apparently see BT collaborate with ZTE using the firm’s “extensive knowledge of equipment and network solutions” to research into areas of communications fixed line, wireless and mobile telecommunications.
Although it is ZTE’s rival Huawei that has drawn great scrutiny due to well known links with the Chinese military and government authorities, Chinese telecommunications firms have generally been treated with caution both in the UK and US, as well as other parts of the world such as Taiwan or the Indian Department of Telecommunications.
For example the US China Economic and Security Review Commission panel highlighted this month that Chinese telecoms could be conscripted by the Chinese government to interfere with or gain intelligence from wireless operators.
In the UK in particular there has previously been significant concern expressed by the Joint Intelligence Committee which warned of the capabilities of private Chinese telecommunications firms to wreak havoc should an attack be made.
So while ZTE does not necessarily have the same profile as Huawei as somewhat of a dodgy dealer in terms of a hidden agenda, it is clear that there is enough concern from Western authorities for the US to limit their growth, so why does this not raise eyebrows in the UK?
Of course there is no need to call for 'reds under the bed' paranoia to block all dealings with Chinese mobile firms, but it seems that it would be odd for the UK to be lax over such security considering the warnings of both domestic and foreign government authorities, particularly with recent noise made in the UK about cyber defences.
BT, which went rather quiet when we brought up such security issues and were unable to provide a spokesperson, told us that it was always working to ensure that security issues were adequatley dealt with.
“In terms of security, BT's network is underpinned by robust security controls and built-in resilience,” BT’s press office told us, though a spokesperson was unavailable.
“We continue to work closely with all our suppliers and the UK government, where appropriate, to ensure that the security of the network is not compromised.”
Techeye also contacted DCMS for comment on the government’s stance on dealings with firm’s which cause concern over security and whether it will be assessing this particular case, but as yet have not received any response.