On July 14th, 2020, the British Government declared that using any technology from Chinese-owned company Huawei in the new 5G networks will be banned. It was also announced that there will be a phased removal of all 5G technology before 2027. Still, any Huawei products currently in use with 3G and 4G will remain due to this being considered a low-security risk.
Only a few months earlier, in January, the UK Government had said that Huawei would be able to play a limited role helping to build the 5G infrastructure.
Alongside the phasing out of current technology is the new ruling that after 31st December this year, no one in the UK will be able to buy new Huawei products. This also encompasses telecoms operators buying their equipment after this date too.
China has previously stated that the UK would ‘face the consequences’ if it proceeded to suspend use of Huawei products. Oliver Dowden, the Digital and Culture Minister, noted that the UK wanted a modern and mature relationship with China, based on mutual respect and that the UK Government is clear-eyed on its approach to China. Dowden also stated:
“5G will be transformative for our country, but only if we have confidence in the security and resilience of the infrastructure it is built on.
Following US sanctions against Huawei and updated technical advice from our cyber experts, the government has decided it is necessary to ban Huawei from our 5G networks.
No new kit is to be added from January 2021, and UK 5G networks will be Huawei free by the end of 2027. This decisive move provides the industry with the clarity and certainty it needs to get on with delivering 5G across the UK.”
For the full speech, click here.
For over twenty years, Huawei has operated throughout the UK and has over 1,600 employees. Sales from Europe alone accounted for almost a quarter of its revenue last year, at 24%. Ed Brewster, Huawei’s spokesperson in the UK, has said that the move threatens to “move Britain into the digital slow lane, push up bills and deepen the digital divide. Regrettably, our future in the UK has become politicised; this is about US trade policy and not security.”
Mr Brewster additionally said that there will be a comprehensive assessment to determine what this latest announcement means for Huawei in the UK. He continued to say that they will work with the government to explain how Huawei can maintain contributing to ‘a better connected Britain’.
The banning of Huawei products in the UK will likely increase the costs of 5G rollout by up to £2 billion and delay the implementation by over two years.
The British government’s u-turn decision comes after the US imposed sanctions on Huawei in May of this year. The US Government suspected that Huawei was helping the Chinese government to snoop and subsequently steal technology from them, accusing Huawei of espionage. The US banned them from using any American manufactured products. The Chinese tech company now seeks the production of microchips and semiconductors (used in networks and smartphones) elsewhere, which is now seen as a much higher security risk.
With the sanctions enforced in the US, Britain has now followed suit, with Mr Dowden stating “due to the uncertainty of the supply chain, the UK cannot guarantee the security of future Huawei 5G equipment. Links with Huawei would compromise British ability to protect our own data.”
Huawei wholeheartedly believes that the US restrictions would not affect the security of any products used within the UK, now or in the future.
The Chief Exec of Huawei, Ren Zhengfei, is said to have ties to the Chinese Communist Party and military. This has garnered significant concerns regarding security issues and heightened fears of espionage shared across several countries, including the UK and US.
The news has not pleased everyone. Phillip Jansen, the Chief Executive of BT, has predicted that it will be impossible to remove Huawei products out of the UK telecoms networks within the allotted time frame. Both he and Andrea Dona, Vodafone’s UK head of networks, have said there will be outages with some people throughout the country losing signal for a few days.
The Government’s press release states:
The government will now seek to legislate at the earliest opportunity with a new Telecoms Security Bill to put in place the powers necessary to implement this tough new telecoms security framework.
It will give the government the national security powers to impose these new controls on high-risk vendors and create extensive security duties on network operators to drive up standards.