The UK government is set initiate a major policy shift and ban mobile operators from using Huawei equipment in their 5G infrastructure, reports have claimed.
The Chinese vendor has had a presence in the UK for two decades and it was the awarding of a contract by BT in 2005 that accelerated the firm’s international expansion. Since then, Huawei has become a key supplier for all four mobile operators.
However the US believes Huawei is linked to the Chinese government and that its equipment represents a threat to national security. Washington is urging its allies to follow suit despite providing no evidence to support its claims and the company’s persistent denials of any wrongdoing.
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Huawei UK 5G
In January, the UK appeared to have reached a conclusive decision on the role of Huawei in 5G.
Operators would be banned from using Huawei kit in the core layer of the networks, effectively formalising the status quo, but permitted to use the firm’s radio equipment subject to a 35 per cent cap. However the US and Tory backbenchers have argued that this decision should be reversed.
What has changed since January is the imposition of US sanctions that severely limit Huawei’s ability to source components. The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) believes that this fundamentally changes the security situation and affects its ability to mitigate any potential threats.
According to a report in The Sunday Times, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden is now in possession of a new report and that ministers on the National Security Council (NSC) will be asked to approve a change in stance. The new regulations would see the purchase of Huawei 5G kit banned by 2027, paving the way for existing equipment to be removed.
Some want the government to go even further and remove all equipment by 2023, but ministers have acknowledged a total ban is impossible without causing serious disruption to the UK’s communications infrastructure.
“We are considering the impact the US’s additional sanctions against Huawei could have on UK networks. This is an ongoing process and we will update further in due course," a DCMS spokesperson told TechRadar Pro.
Mobile operators argue any ban would be disruptive as it would cause delays to 5G rollout, increase costs and lower innovation – ultimately harming consumers and businesses and the UK’s post-coronavirus, post-Brexit economy.
Earlier this month, Huawei launched a media campaign that looked to dispel myths about the company and to promote its ability to deliver 5G. It has once again denied any allegations that it or its equipment poses a security risk.
“We are working closely with our customers to find ways of managing the proposed US restrictions so the UK can maintain its current lead in 5G,” said Victor Zhang, Huawei vice president. “As ever, we remain open to discussions with the Government.
“We believe it is too early to determine the impact of the proposed restrictions, which are not about security, but about market position. All our world-leading products and solutions use technology and components over which the UK government has strict oversight. Our technology is already extensively used in 5G networks across the country and has helped connect people throughout lockdown.”
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Via Sunday Times
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Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.