Huawei will be allowed to contribute to non-core areas of the UK’s 5G networks
After months of uncertainty and political to-and-fro, the UK has today announced that it will allow Huawei to contribute to its 5G networks, following a deliberation by the National Security Council chaired by the PM.
The key outcomes of this decision are that Huawei will be excluded from all safety-related and safety-critical networks in national infrastructure; excluded from the core of the 5G network infrastructure; excluded from sensitive geographical areas, such as nuclear and military sites; and will be limited to a market share of 35% in the access network.
The recommended cap of 35% of base stations and expected traffic in the access network could later be further reduced as the market diversifies. Companies whose networks are overexposed should move to reduce Huawei’s RAN share to acceptable levels as soon as possible, with the timeframe to do so seemingly set at three years.
The meeting also saw Huawei designated a “high-risk” vendor, with a source in Whitehall saying that the government is “clear-eyed about the challenge posed by Huawei”.
Nonetheless, Huawei has been quick to praise the decision.
“This evidence-based decision will result in a more advanced, more secure and more cost-effective telecoms infrastructure that is fit for the future,” said Victor Zhang, vice-president of Huawei. “It gives the UK access to world-leading technology and ensures a competitive market.”
The decision will also come as a relief to UK telcos, for whom a complete ban would have caused turmoil. Most of these companies already use Huawei for their network, though few currently use the Chinese company for their network’s core.
For the US, on the other hand, this represents a significant blow. Former speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich called it an "enormous strategic defeat":
US officials have been adamant about the security risks associated with Huawei equipment, so much so as to threaten reduced intelligence sharing between the US and the UK.
But the UK government, supported by comments from its intelligence services, appear unconcerned about the potential impact to US security relations.
“Today’s decision doesn’t affect our ability to share sensitive intelligence data over secure networks both within the UK and with allies,” said a Whitehall source.
To what extent this decision will strain UK–US relations remains to be seen, as does its effect on the UK’s neighbours in Europe, who have also been under similar pressure to take a stance on Huawei. For countries like Germany, the UK’s new position could tip the balance towards adopting a similar approach.
While this decision sees the removal of a major obstacle for the nation’s 5G rollout, the future is far from clear. With Huawei’s involvement limited, we are likely to see a host of alternatives come to the fore in an attempt to make the networks more resilient. Open RAN sharing agreements could be one such solution.
“This long-awaited decision on Huawei provides operators with clarity, but also an opportunity to move to more open networks, and add much needed competition into their supply chains,” said Steve Papa of Parallel Wireless.
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