21 July 2020
At the end of the year, network providers in the UK will not be able to buy 5G equipment from Huawei. The decision arrives due to concerns over the network’s security and resilience raised by the recent sanctions imposed on the Chinese company by the United States.
Last year the US banned Huawei, which US President Donald Trump describes as a “security risk.” The tech company’s products are on an export control list that restricts their presence on American-designed semiconductors: used in the production of mobile phones and telecom network equipment.
In May, the US announced that rules regarding the sanctions would change, requiring businesses that sell US-made equipment to Huawei to apply for an additional license to do so. This decision further limits the company’s access to semiconductor technology.
Last year Huawei lost $12 billion in revenue, which it believes was a direct result of US sanctions.
The Chinese company claims the latest restrictions place its survival at risk and threaten operations in over 170 countries.
Huawei was considered a ‘High-Risk Vendor’ in January- meaning it posed a threat to the security of UK networks. The company was, therefore, excluded from the most sensitive parts of the UK’s 5G network.
The latest sanctions from the US pushed the UK government to order a technical review to be performed by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC). The result was the NCSC advising that restrictions meant Huawei would need to revise its supply chains.
Little confidence rests in alternatives to the semiconductor technology.
For these reasons, the national security council, chaired by prime minister Boris Johnson, concluded that it would remove Huawei’s equipment from the UK’s 5G network by 2027. The government also advised full fibre broadband operators to stop purchasing equipment from the Chinese company.
Referring to the decision, secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, Oliver Dowden, said, “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.”
Dowden added that the government intends to have Huawei’s removal from the network implemented as a law by the time of the next general election, describing the nation’s initial engagement with company as an “irreversible path.”
To achieve its aim, the UK government intends to introduce the ‘Telecom Security Bill.’ The act will make it illegal for network operators to purchase 5G equipment from Huawei as well as require improved security standards throughout the sector to combat threats.
The alternative outcome of this decision is the inventible delay to roll out 5G in the UK and the subsequent cost.
This stutter could see the UK lose roughly £2 billion if it recovers in 3 years.
China’s government heavily criticised the UK’s course of action, referring to the ban of Huawei’s network equipment as “baseless.”
The shadow minister for science, research and digital, Chi Onwurah, called it “A car crash for our digital economy, but one that could have been visible from outer space,” blaming the government’s indecision on the matter and their failure to invest in UK telecoms capability and jobs.
According to Dowden, the predicament stems from a failure in the global market. He believes, “Countries around the world, not just the United Kingdom, have become dangerously reliant on too few vendors.”
Apart from China, there’s only one other appropriate scale vendor of full-fibre equipment – the US.
Following consultation with network operators on supply chain alternatives, the UK government is aiming to remedy the concern by establishing a diversification strategy.
Its policy encourages greater competition in the network sector.
By focusing on protecting supply chains, welcoming scale vendors, and building partnerships between operators and vendors, the government plans to achieve its program’s potential.