Huawei banned from UK 5G network, pleads with Johnson to reconsider

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The UK has excluded Huawei from its future 5G network infrastructure, the government announced on Tuesday (14 July). The Chinese telecommunications firm immediately urged Boris Johnson’s administration to reconsider the decision, seen as a substantial setback for its business in Europe.

As part of a set of new rules presented by the UK’s Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden on Tuesday, the purchase of Huawei 5G equipment will be banned from the end of the year and all equipment provided by the firm will have to be removed from 5G networks by the end of 2027.

Telecoms providers will be legally obliged to implement the fresh rules under a new Telecoms Security Bill to be brought before Parliament in the Autumn.

The bill will chart an “irreversible” path for a “complete removal” of all Huawei 5G equipment by 2027, Dowden said on Tuesday, adding that “from the end of this year, telecoms operators must not buy any equipment from Huawei.”

As a result of the new measures, Dowden said, the UK’s 5G network deployment would be delayed by two to three years, at a cost of up to £2 billion.

Huawei immediately expressed disappointment with the decision.

“It threatens to move Britain into the digital slow lane, push up bills and deepen the digital divide,” a statement from the company said. “Instead of ‘levelling up’, the government is levelling down and we urge them to reconsider.”

US restrictions

The decision comes after a recent review by the UK’s National Cybersecurity Centre (NSCS) highlighted the opinion that Huawei equipment is no longer safe to use.

This conclusion was made following new restrictions imposed by the US Department of Commerce, under which Huawei will have to source providers for its equipment from countries other than the US.

In May, the US Department of Commerce announced new restrictions on sales to Huawei of chips made with American equipment, in a bid to “narrowly and strategically target Huawei’s acquisition of semiconductors.”

The move was seen as an upping of the ante against the Chinese firm, following the Trump administration’s May 2019 placing of Huawei on the US entity list – making it difficult for American companies to obtain licences to do business with Huawei.

The NSCS review was conducted after the new US restrictions and submitted to the UK government in early July.

Samsung & NEC

In bridging the gap left by Huawei’s exclusion from the 5G network infrastructure, the UK is likely to turn to South Korea’s Samsung and Japan’s NEC.

And Dowden also noted the importance of protecting other telecommunications firms that could be negatively impacted by the Huawei ban.

“The first thing we need to do is ensure that we protect the other two vendors in this market, Nokia and Ericsson,” Dowden said. “Secondly, we need to get new supplies, and that starts with Samsung and NEC.”

Labour’s Digital Shadow Minister, Chi Onwurah, raised her concerns that the potential cost incurred as a result of the exclusion could eventually be passed onto consumers and that such an outlay could have been foreseen a long time ago.

“This is a car crash for our digital economy, but one which could have been visible from outer space,” she said. “BT and other vendors have put the cost of this decision in the billions.”

The signs had been there earlier in the day that the UK would take a tougher stance against Huawei, after reports surfaced that the UK chairman of Huawei, Lord Browne of Madingley, would step down from his role. Sky News reported that he had submitted his resignation from the company in the last few days.

EU state of play

In Brussels, meanwhile, there are broader concerns related to the slow rollout of 5G across the bloc.

In early May, the European Commission’s Vice-President for Digital, Margrethe Vestager, urged EU telecoms ministers to “limit as much as possible” any delays to their 5G spectrum assignments, amid new challenges to the industry brought on by the coronavirus crisis and concerns over Huawei’s involvement.

Her plea came after the announcement of a series of delays to 5G spectrum auctions in Europe – including in Spain, Austria, Portugal and the Czech Republic.

Vestager said she understood the reasons for the delays but urged member states to “keep up the pace” as a means of meeting current timeframe objectives.

The EU launched its 5G toolbox in January this year, aiming to mitigate the potential risk of member states doing business with vendors deemed to be untrustworthy.

EU nations were due to submit a joint report on the implementation of the security measures included in the toolbox to the Commission by June 30, but that deadline is understood to have been extended. A follow up on the plans is expected to be delivered by the Commission later in July.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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