Huawei UK 5G issues explained: what it means for you

(Image credit: Karlis Dambrans / Shutterstock)

After months of debate and delay, the UK government has finally confirmed it will allow Huawei to build part of its 5G infrastructure.

Boris Johnson’s administration has said that the Chinese giant will continue to be allowed to play a role in Britain’s 5G rollout, despite long-standing pressure from the US to block its involvement.

The US has long suspected Huawei of using its technology expertise to carry out illegal surveillance on users around the world - something the Chinese firm strongly denies.

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

What does the government decision mean?

The UK government’s decision to allow Huawei into the country’s 5G network does not grant extensive access, as the Chinese manufacturer’s equipment will be banned from the sensitive parts of the mobile network and will be subject to a cap.

It will not be allowed to provide more than 35 per cent of the radio layer of any 5G network, and will be blocked from operating near any military and nuclear sites.

Huawei is a key supplier for all four major UK operators, but its future role had been uncertain due to fears the use of its kit constituted a national security risk – allegations the company has persistently denied.

MPs and intelligence chiefs have suggested there is no technical reason to exclude Huawei and that the decision is a political one.

Huawei has welcomed the decision, saying it was "reassured" by the UK government’s confirmation that it can continue its 5G rollout.

“This evidence-based decision will result in a more advanced, more secure and more cost-effective telecoms infrastructure that is fit for the future. It gives the UK access to world-leading technology and ensures a competitive market," said Victor Zhang, Vice-President, Huawei.

“We have supplied cutting-edge technology to telecoms operators in the UK for more than 15 years. We will build on this strong track record, supporting our customers as they invest in their 5G networks, boosting economic growth and helping the UK continue to compete globally."

“We agree a diverse vendor market and fair competition are essential for network reliability and innovation, as well as ensuring consumers have access to the best possible technology.”

Why is Huawei under pressure?

As mentioned above, the US has long accused Huawei of using its technology expertise to carry out illegal surveillance on users around the world.

Huawei has always strongly denied these claims, which are often made without much back-up. It cannot be denied that Huawei has invested hugely in research and development in recent years, which put the company above most of the industry in terms of expertise.

Tensions were raised last year when the Trump administration placed the Chinese brand on the 'entity list', limiting the business US companies could do with it, and leading to worldwide implications.

It led to Google blocking Huawei's future access to Android updates, UK-based chip designer ARM ceasing all activities with the brand, and multiple retailers and networks around the world halting deals with Huawei for fear of sanctions from the US government.

Huawei has already signed deals to help support and build 5G networks across multiple nations, including the likes of Russia, South Korea and Finland. However, many countries (including Germany and Australia) are still locked in debate over the use of Huawei equipment, so expect this argument to rumble on for some time. 

What is 5G?

Put simply, 5G is the future of the internet. The “G” stands for generation, with the technology representing the fifth generation of connectivity around the world, offering faster speeds and more reliable connections on smartphones and other devices than ever before.

Combining cutting-edge network technology and the latest high-specced devices, 5G should offer connections that are multitudes faster than current hookups, with average download speeds of around 1GBps expected to soon be the norm.

The networks are expected to supercharge Internet of Things technology, providing the infrastructure needed to carry huge amounts of data that allows for a smarter and more connected world.

5G networks have launched around the world with providers offering the connectivity tech across the US, UK and Australia as well as a variety of other countries.

For more information, check out our What is 5G? hub

When does the UK get 5G?

The UK’s big networks began rolling out their 5G networks in 2019, meaning some users can enjoy the next-generation networks now - if they have an applicable device, of course.

EE was the first UK carrier to launch its 5G network, switching it on in six cities in May 2019, and now expanding to over 50 towns and cities.

Vodafone launched its 5G service in July 2019, with nearly 40 cities and towns now able to connect.  

Next up was Three, which launched a 5G service in London on August 19. However, there's a catch - it's initially only available for home broadband. The carrier's planned late 2019 mobile 5G rollout was pushed back to early 2020 to ensure all elements of the network were built out. 

Finally, O2 rolled out its 5G service in October 2019 and hopes to grow it to 50 cities and towns by summer 2020.

For more information, check out our UK 5G hub

Mike Moore
Deputy Editor, TechRadar Pro

Mike Moore is Deputy Editor at TechRadar Pro. He has worked as a B2B and B2C tech journalist for nearly a decade, including at one of the UK's leading national newspapers and fellow Future title ITProPortal, and when he's not keeping track of all the latest enterprise and workplace trends, can most likely be found watching, following or taking part in some kind of sport.