The UK government has announced that no further 5G equipment can be purchased from Huawei from the end of the year and existing kit must be removed by 2027
After a tumultuous year, Huawei’s future in the UK has finally been decided. Today, the UK government has announced that Huawei is to be banned from supplying new 5G equipment at the end of the year.
Telcos will also be forced to remove existing 5G equipment from their networks by 2027. However, existing 2G, 3G, and 4G equipment will not be required to be removed, since these have been deemed secure.
The complete removal of Huawei from the UK’s 5G infrastructure is an enormous task. Earlier this week, Vodafone and BT warned of the cost of removing Huawei equipment, which they claimed would cause significant delays to the UK’s 5G rollout and cost billions of pounds. Analysts have reached similar figures, with Assembly Research finding that it could cost the economy nearly £7 billion and delay 5G progress by two years.
"Long term the decision to exclude Huawei cannot be solved with a solution as idealistically simple as just swapping it for an alternative vendor immediately,” noted Michael Downs, director of telecom security at Positive Technologies. “There is also the additional cost of delaying deployments, as companies have already gone through the process of testing 5G equipment from Huawei. This whole process – including testing – will have to be started all over again.”
A myriad of factors have surely contributed to the decision – not least including growing geopolitical tension between China and the UK over Hong Kong – but the primary motivation appears to be the latest round of US sanctions announced back in May. These sanctions effectively shatter Huawei’s US chip supply chain and will force the company to look to domestic companies to fill the void; these companies are less trusted than the known US businesses, therefore theoretically increasing the security risk of working with the already ‘high-risk vendor’.
Huawei UK’s spokesperson Ed Brewster lamented the decision, saying that politics had won out over security concerns and suggesting that the UK was “levelling down” rather than “levelling up”.
"This disappointing decision is bad news for anyone in the UK with a mobile phone. It threatens to move Britain into the digital slow lane, push up bills and deepen the digital divide," said Brewster.
The news will come as a blow to most of the UK’s operators, who will be forced for the second time this year to rethink their 5G strategies as a result of government policy over Huawei. Many of these operators were already taking steps to reduce their reliance on Huawei as a result of the previous government restrictions and ongoing uncertainty regarding the Chinese company’s future, but the scale of this decision will still cause major disruption for the coming months.
The operators must now ask themselves: what are the alternatives to Huawei’s 5G tech? Ericsson has previously noted that it has the capacity to replace the equipment and has since reiterated that capacity today, immediately after the announcement of the UK’s decision.
“Ericsson has the technology, experience and supply chain capacity to help accomplish this, and we stand ready to work with the UK operators to meet their timetable, with no disruption to customers,” said Arun Bansal, Ericsson’s President of Europe and Latin America.
However, the reality of the situation is much less clear, with a wide array of companies, new and old, big and small, who will all be looking to get a slice of the pie.
“While, there are other network vendors who could pick up the pieces, it is unclear whether they are up to the task. Established rivals like Ericsson and Nokia have been struggling and there’s a resurgence of players like Samsung Networks and Japanese players Fujitsu and NEC. Smaller, fast growing and niche solution providers like Mavenir will all be keen to secure new business,” said PP Foresight’s Pablo Pescatore, who also added that the move would inevitably shift the additional costs to the users.
Culture secretary Oliver Dowden has recently suggested forming a closer union with other nations – notably the ‘Five Eyes’ and so-called ‘D10’ countries – to help reduce their collective reliance on Chinese tech. The US at the time said that it would need to see sterner action taken against Huawei by the UK before it would consider such a union – perhaps today they have received just that.
This news also comes just hours after Sky reported that Lord Browne, Huawei UK’s independent chairman, had resigned.
How will the Huawei ban reshape the UK’s digital landscape? Find out from the experts at this year’s Connected Britain
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