UK Government confirms Huawei 5G role

(Image credit: Future)

The UK government has confirmed that Huawei will continue to be allowed to play a role in Britain’s 5G rollout.

However the Chinese manufacturer’s equipment will be banned from the sensitive parts of the mobile network and will be subject to a cap.

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.

Huawei UK

MPs and intelligence chiefs have suggested there is no technical reason to exclude Huawei from 5G and that the decision is a political one.

The long-awaited decision preserves the status quo and removes some uncertainty for mobile operators embarking on nationwide rollouts of 5G.

While no operator has plans to use Huawei gear in the network core, all want to be able to use Huawei’s radio kit. They have argued that a ban would increase costs and reduce innovation.

The government hopes its new rules will allow the country to become a 5G leader, while the imposition of some restrictions will appease the US, which had wanted Huawei to be banned entirely.

Under the new guidance, “high risk” vendors would be excluded from the core layer of 5G networks and from networks used to power critical national infrastructure or sensitive geographic locations such as military sites. Such vendors will also be limited to 35 per cent of the radio layer of the network. This cap would be reviewed over time.

The idea is that by using multiple vendors, the UK’s communications infrastructure would be protected from vulnerabilities affecting a single manufacturer.

“We want world-class connectivity as soon as possible but this must not be at the expense of our national security,” said Digital Secretary Baroness Morgan. “High risk vendors never have been and never will be in our most sensitive networks.

“The government has reviewed the supply chain for telecoms networks and concluded today it is necessary to have tight restrictions on the presence of high risk vendors. This is a UK-specific solution for UK-specific reasons and the decision deals with the challenges we face right now.

“It not only paves the way for secure and resilient networks, with our sovereignty over data protected, but it also builds on our strategy to develop a diversity of suppliers.”

Huawei reaction

A decision had been expected last Spring as part of a wider review into the UK’s telecommunications supply chain, however various political developments had delayed a final ruling. The US has placed significant pressure on its allies, suggesting that it could limit intelligence sharing with countries that used Huawei equipment.

Huawei has welcomed the decision.

“Huawei is reassured by the UK government’s confirmation that we can continue working with our customers to keep the 5G roll-out on track,” said Victor Zhang, Vice-President, Huawei. “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.

“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.”

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.