MPs warn against dependency on just two 5G suppliers

Houses of Parliament
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MPs have warned of the network resiliency and security risks caused by the UK’s dependency on just two suppliers of 5G radio equipment and has urged the government to take steps to reduce the risk of such a situation arising in the future.

Market consolidation as well as the exclusion of Huawei from the UK’s rollout of 5G means operators only have two options when it comes to sourcing radio access network (RAN) kit – Ericsson and Nokia.

Most operators have adopted a multi-vendor approach in the 5G era so they can mix and match innovations and improve the resiliency of their infrastructure. It had been feared that the Huawei ban would lead to reduced innovation and increased prices, but it also means operator exposure to faults or a security incident has increased significantly.

UK 5G strategy

A report by the Commons Science and Technology Committee says the growing importance of mobile connectivity to society and the economy means an event that takes a network offline or causes a security incident would have serious consequences.

The government has courted the likes of NEC and Samsung to help fill the void, while it has encouraged the development of Open RAN technologies. However, MPs note that this plan to diversify the supply chain will take many years to achieve any success and there is no guarantee that Open RAN will be the answer to the industry’s challenges.

The committee’s report has urged the government to outline how it plans to minimise the risk of 5G and other emerging critical technologies – such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and quantum computing – going forward in an action plan.

Specifically, the report says the government should take an active role in R&D programmes with industry and academia and should work with international bodies on the diversification of the telecoms market.

"A lack of strategic foresight in 5G has seen the UK become dependent on only two vendors for a crucial technology,” said Greg Clark, chair of the committee. “We must learn from this experience to avoid making our economy and security vulnerable from a lack of acceptable alternatives in emerging technologies.

"While the Committee welcomes the Government's 5G diversification strategy, it has come too late and contains little by way of detail. The Government needs to take an activist approach to encouraging research and development, and must now co-operate internationally to build common regulatory approaches with like-minded nations.

"As technologies develop at an ever faster rate, more time must not be lost. In a White Paper, the Government must urgently lay out a strategy for the most important technologies of the future to avoid repeating the supplier squeeze we have ended up with in 5G." 

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.