Telecoms operators into the UK have been urged to keep a healthy stock of Huawei networking equipment amid concerns that supply could be impacted by the latest round of US sanctions.
According to Reuters, National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) wrote to BT and Vodafone suggesting they maintain a supply of gear from all vendors but made specific reference to the supply of Huawei kit and the ability for the company to provide updates.
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.
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Huawei UK 5G
However scrutiny of the company’s role in the UK’s communications infrastructure has intensified in recent months following allegations made by the US that Huawei is linked to the Chinese government and that its equipment represents a threat to national security.
The US has never produced any evidence to support its claims, while Huawei has persistently denied any suggestion of wrongdoing. GCHQ is also satisfied that Huawei does not pose any risk as, uniquely, the company’s kit in the UK is subject to a dedicated monitoring unit in Banbury.
Nonetheless, the US has continued to put pressure on the UK to reverse a decision made in January that allows Huawei to supply UK operators with 5G radio equipment.
The latest measure from Washington severely restricts Huawei’s ability to procure chips for both its networking kit and smartphones. Earlier this month, the NCSC said it was reviewing the situation following the imposition of the sanctions.
Reports suggested that was that the UK could demand that operators remove all Huawei kit from their infrastructure by 2023. However, it was also suggested that ministers have acknowledged a total ban is impossible without causing serious disruption to the UK’s communications infrastructure.
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.
Last week, Huawei launched a media campaign that looked to dispel myths about the company and to promote its ability to deliver 5G.
Huawei, BT and Vodafone have been contacted for comment.
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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.