Reports suggest that the UK government has agreed plans to remove the Chinese giant’s equipment from UK 5G infrastructure over the next three years
Back in January, the UK government agreed to allow Huawei to continue to supply 5G equipment to UK operators, but limited them to a 35% market share and banned them from the networks’ cores.
At the time, this decision gained the ire of the US, who continued to pressure the UK and the rest of the world to cut themselves off from Huawei dependence entirely. By March, the UK government was falling under pressure from within as well as without, seeing a rebel Tory faction lead a vote in Parliament to phase out Huawei equipment. The government narrowly defeated this vote, seemingly securing Huawei’s position in the UK’s 5G infrastructure.
However, it is now being reported that the PM has instructed officials to ramp up restrictions, phasing out the Chinese company’s equipment completely by 2023.
But why this sudden U-turn?
“The landscape is different and it’s right that we re-examine this immediately,” said an official, as reported by the Financial Times.
These ‘differences’ appear to refer to the ongoing geopolitical bad blood between the US and China, which hotted up again recently when the Trump administration moved to extend Huawei’s US trade ban for another year. The coronavirus pandemic has fuelled tensions between the two countries, with the US widely accusing the Chinese government of covering up the outbreak of the virus.
5G is increasingly becoming a key weapon in the geopolitical battle between the two countries, with the Chinese government investing massively in the new technology to ensure that their country secures and maintains a lead in telecommunications technology.
For the UK’s telcos, a new decision to now remove Huawei equipment entirely would be at best frustrating, at worst incredibly disruptive. EE, Vodafone, and Three all use Huawei in their 5G networks, with the costs associated with stripping and replacing Huawei kit being extortionate, not to mention the delay this process will cause for national 5G rollouts.
Meanwhile, Huawei continue to decry any attempt to discredit them, repeating once again that they are not agents of the Chinese government and do not represent a security threat.
“As a private company, 100% owned by employees, which has operated in the UK for 20 years, our priority has been to help mobile and broadband companies keep Britain connected, which in this current health crisis has been more vital than ever. This is our proven track-record,” said Huawei’s VP Victor Zhang.
In a post-COVID-19 world, with countries around the world looking to accelerate 5G as a means to revitalise national economies, is this decision to phase out one of the largest companies in the world a wise one? For PM Boris Johnson, currently under fire for his handling of the Dominic Cummings scandal, the decision will at least win him some favour with members of his own party, as well as in the US.
What would the removal of Huawei equipment mean for UK connectivity? Find out from the operators at this year’s Connected Britain