Vodafone has warned the UK government that a blanket ban on Huawei equipment would cost the country any chance of maintaining its 5G leadership.
Independent observers recently named the UK as the sixth most developed 5G nation in the world and the second most developed in Europe.
The UK’s position as a 5G leader marks a dramatic reversal from 4G when it lagged behind the rest of Europe. EE, O2, Three and Vodafone have all launched commercial services, while the government has offered its support to a rapid rollout and there is a strong start up ecosystem.
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Vodafone UK 5G leadership
However there are concerns that the long-running dispute over Huawei could derail progress and hinder the potential for next-generation networks to aid Britain’s post-coronavirus recovery and plans for a post-Brexit economy.
The US has urged its allies to ban Huawei from their mobile infrastructure, claiming the company has links to the Chinese government and is a threat to national security. These allegations that have not been backed up by evidence and are rejected by Huawei.
The Chinese vendor has been in the UK market for more than two decades and is a key supplier for all four operators. They argue any ban would be disruptive as it would cause delays, increase costs and lower innovation – ultimately harming consumers and businesses.
Scott Petty, Vodafone CTO, told the FT: “The UK’s leadership in 5G will be lost if mobile operators are forced to spend time and money replacing existing equipment … efforts should instead be focused on expanding 5G coverage, developing 5G capabilities for UK industry, and investing in the next stage of this important technology.”
In January, the government finally confirmed that operators would be allowed to use Huawei’s kit in the radio layer of 5G networks – subject to a 35 per cent cap – but not in the core layer. This effectively maintains the status quo as no operator planned to use Huawei for core technology.
However, the US has urged the UK to reconsider its stance leading to speculation that the decision could be reversed. Last week the National Cyber Security Council (NCSC) said it was reviewing the situation following the imposition of new sanctions by the US.
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.
Meanwhile, 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.
Earlier this week, Huawei launched a media campaign that looked to dispel myths about the company and to promote its ability to deliver 5G.
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