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[Update: 2027] UK government could phase out Huawei from 5G network infrastructure over security concerns

A series of new reports suggest that the UK government is set to phase out Huawei from its 5G network infrastructure over security concerns.

[Update 07/14]: The UK government has confirmed that Huawei now has until 2027 to effectively replace Huawei networking equipment and hardware after the move was confirmed by Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden in the House of Commons today.

This ban effectively means that UK carriers must remove all existing Huawei technology from networks by 2027, with bans from purchasing 5G equipment from December 31st, 2020 (via BBC). With Brexit on the horizon, closer links with the US will be a core part of Conservative strategies to win the support of the public. This decision comes as US pressure was mounting on the UK in light of continuing usage of Huawei networking tech.

5G will be transformative for our country, but only if we have confidence in the security and resilience of the infrastructure it is built upon.

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.

By the time of the next election we will have implemented in law an irreversible path for the complete removal of Huawei equipment from our 5G networks.

One redeeming point is that only 5G tech is to be removed from UK infrastructure. Existing 2G, 3G, and 4G hardware will remain in place. With 5G still in the rollout phase, this might not have a huge effect on the average smartphone user.

However, Huawei has hit back saying the move is: “Bad news for anyone in the UK with a mobile phone” and threatened to “move Britain into the digital slow lane, push up bills and deepen the digital divide.”

How this will affect British consumers and the smartphone industry remains to be seen, but it’s yet another huge blow for the beleaguered Chinese firm.

In a massive U-turn, British prime minister Boris Johnson is set to enact policies after Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) reassessed the risks posed by the Chinese tech giant. This would be a major shift in the stance Johnson had in early January 2020, where he confirmed that the UK would allow Huawei to play a limited role in the UK’s 5G network rollout.

The updated GCHQ report leaked by the Telegraph, which was then corroborated by Bloomberg, claims that the ongoing US trade restrictions “will force the company to use untrusted technology that could increase the risk to the UK.”

With even tighter and tougher restrictions now steadily starting to bite Huawei, this report will no doubt be a hammer blow. The publishing of this report by media outlets may even “force Boris Johnson to abandon the company entirely,” according to the Telegraph.

The publishing of these reports led to the UK government making the following statement:

We are considering the impact the US’ additional sanctions against Huawei could have on UK networks. This is an ongoing process and we will update further in due course.

Huawei networking hardware was only used for “non-core” elements of the UK 5G network, which would account for around 35% of the total infrastructure. With very few firms able to match the rollout speed of the Chinese firm, Johnson argued that no viable alternatives have been available. Given that Huawei already accounts for a large portion of UK networking hardware, it seems odd that this decision has been taken now.

“We are working closely with our customers to find ways of managing the proposed US restrictions so the UK can maintain its current lead in 5G,” Huawei vice-president Victor Zhang told Bloomberg. “We believe it is too early to determine the impact of the proposed restrictions, which are not about security, but about market position.”

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Avatar for Damien Wilde Damien Wilde

Damien is a UK-based video producer for 9to5Google. Find him on Twitter @iamdamienwilde. Email

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