The telcos told lawmakers that removing the Chinese vendor from their infrastructure could hamper the UK’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic

Back in January, when the UK first made its decision to limit Huawei to a 35% market share and restrict them from the core of the network, UK telcos were already noting how expensive it would be to remove the Chinese kit from their networks. At the time, BT estimated that the rip-and-replace required by these limitations would cost them around £500 million over the next five years.
Now, with the UK reportedly considering a total phase out of Huawei equipment – and in a short time frame too – BT and Vodafone have spoken out once again about the potential cost of these restrictions.
In a statement, Vodafone estimated the cost to remove Huawei equipment entirely would be in the billions of pounds, potentially damaging the UK’s post-COVID-19 recovery.
“I am concerned that an ultra aggressive imposition of a change in policy could hamper our economic recover in the UK,” said Vodafone UK’s head of technology Andrea Dona.
With some lawmakers pushing for action to be taken against Huawei as quickly as possible, Vodafone argued that a minimum transitional period to remove the tech would be five years, while BT said that seven would ideally be required to remove Huawei from its network.
BT’s CTO Howard Watson noted that a rush to remove the equipment to meet legislation could lead to a substantial loss in their ability to provide connectivity to customers.
“To get to zero in a three-year period would literally mean blackouts for customers on 4G and 2G, as well as 5G, throughout the country,” said Watson.
Vodafone has already been quite vocal about the importance of Huawei in UK networks, suggesting last month that the UK needed Huawei equipment if it was to retain its position in global 5G hierarchy. Meanwhile, Huawei’s rivals Ericsson (and to a lesser extent Samsung) have tentatively noted that they would be capable of replacing the required equipment.
The economic cost of sweeping changes to UK networks is undeniable, but there are many additional factors at stake here: the UK’s own connectivity goals, 5G, national security, poltiical allegiances post-Brexit, and perhaps even PM Boris Johnson’s own political future are all interwoven in this saga. The stakes are nothing if not high for the UK telecoms sector.
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