UK 5G could be delayed over security worries

(Image credit: Huawei)

The UK's 5G rollout could be delayed following new warnings from the Culture Secretary.

Politicians and the mobile industry have been waiting months for a final decision on whether Huawei will be allowed to supply operators with 5G radio equipment, leading to uncertainty. Any ban, the operators argue, would increase prices, reduce innovation, and delay 5G rollout.

Leaks from the National Security Council (NSC) last week suggested that Huawei would not be allowed to provide kit for the core of 5G networks (where the most sensitive data is processed) but it will be able to provide radio equipment.

UK 5G delay

However, amid the public debate sparked by these leaks and pressure from the US government, Jeremy Wright has told the House of Commons culture select committee that he would be prepared to sacrifice the economic gains of an early 5G launch in favour of security.

“There is certainly the possibility of a delay in the process of the roll out of 5G: If you want to do 5G fastest then you do that without any consideration for security,” he told MPs. “But we not prepared to do that. So, I don’t exclude the possibility that there will be some delay.

“This is not an exercise about how we get the cheapest telecom equipment … The primary intention of this process is to get the security of the network right.”

Huawei is a key supplier for all four major UK operators and sells products to more than 500 operators in 170 countries. However, the company has been frozen out of the US market because of Washington’s fears that Huawei kit could be used to facilitate state-sponsored espionage.

No evidence has been produced to support these allegations, which Huawei denies, but the US has ramped up pressure on allies to follow its lead.

If operators could not access Huawei’s radio technology, then the UK would cede any leadership position in 5G and widespread availability of services could be delayed by 18-24 months, costing the economy as much as £6.8 billion.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS)’s report on Huawei had been expected this Spring but has still not been published. It is unclear what impact the leaks and the resulting fallout have had on the process, although Wright told the committee he expected it to be made available soon.

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.