New Huawei 5G equipment banned from December 31
Digital secretary Oliver Dowden has announced that UK mobile providers will be banned from purchasing new Huawei 5G equipment after December 31, while all of the Chinese firms 5G kit must be removed from UK networks by the year 2027.
The UK government’s decision follows US sanctions which were made on the basis that the Chinese company poses a threat to national security.
Huawei has vehemently denied the claims.
Dowden said that the cost of the government’s latest move, plus earlier restrictions against the firm would be up to £2 billion and would delay the UK’s 5G rollout by a year.
Earlier restrictions included a cap on the Chinese firm’s market share following a review into its role in the UK’s 5G infrastructure in January, but the government at the time chose to retain Huawei as a supplier.
Dowden said: "This has not been an easy decision, but it is the right one for the UK telecoms networks, for our national security and our economy, both now and indeed in the long run."
The government has not required the removal of 2G, 3G and 4G equipment supplied by Huawei, considering that the sanctions from Washington only apply to future technology.
Huawei said in response that the decision was “bad news for anyone in the UK with a mobile phone” and could see Britain relegated to “the digital slow lane” resulting in higher bills and a “deepening of the digital divide”.
Huawei’s broadband technology will also be included in restrictions.
Dowden outlined that he expected mobile operators to “transition away” from using Huawei equipment for the full-fibre network within two years. Additional time is being provided for the broadband transition, however, to avoid overreliance on Nokia as a sole supplier.
The US sanctions were brought in during May and intended to disrupt Huawei’s ability to manufacture its own chips.
Security officials subsequently declared that they could not assure the security of Huawei’s products if the firm had to source chips from third-party companies to be used in its technology.
Dowden highlighted a GCHQ National Cyber Security Centre review as the key factor behind the government’s decision.
Its technical director, Dr Ian Levy, wrote: "Huawei claims to have stockpiles of parts that they can use, but this obviously affects what the NCSC can say about their products going forward.
"We think that Huawei products that are adapted to cope with the [sanctions] are likely to suffer more security and reliability problems because of the massive engineering challenge ahead of them, and it will be harder for us to be confident in their use within our mitigation strategy."
Yet, some backbench Conservative MPs favour the removal of Huawei equipment being brought forward further, amid calls for the ban to be implemented before the next general election due in May 2024.
Dowden warned, however, that a shorter timeframe would pose a “greater risk of actual disruption” to the UK’s mobile phone networks.
BT and Vodafone said that its customers could face mobile blackouts if they were forced to remove all of Huawei’s 5G technology with less notice.
Huawei, which employs 1,600 people in the UK and claims to be one of the country’s biggest sources of Chinese investment, has implored the government to reconsider its position.
Huawei spokesman Ed Brewster said: "We will conduct a detailed review of what today's announcement means for our business here and will work with the UK government to explain how we can continue to contribute to a better connected Britain."
Huawei’s UK chairman and former BP chief executive Lord Browne stepped down from his position just days before the announcement, having been tasked with promoting the firm in the UK and avoiding a technology ban.
Huawei said in a statement: “He [Lord Browne] has been central to our commitment here dating back 20 years, and we thank him for his valuable contribution.”
The Huawei decision is yet another sign of growing tensions between the UK and China, following its handling of the Covid-19 outbreak and the introduction of a new national security law in Hong Kong.