The chief executive of BT has said that it will be “impossible” to strip out Huawei equipment from the UK’s telecommunications network by 2030 and warned that a rushed reduction of the Chinese firm’s involvement could lead to “outages”.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Philip Jansen said:
“Huawei has been in the telecoms infrastructure for about 20 years and a big supplier to BT and many others in the UK telecoms industry.
“It is all about timing and balance. So, if you want to have no Huawei in the whole of the telecoms infrastructure across the whole of the UK, I think that’s impossible to do in under 10 years.”
His comments come ahead of a UK government announcement on Huawei on Tuesday. It has been widely reported that the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, will announce that telecommunications firms will be banned from using new Huawei equipment from 2021. It is also rumoured that he will announce an accelerated timeline to remove Huawei from the network entirely.
In January, Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave telecoms carriers, such as BT and Vodafone, the green light to continue using Huawei equipment to build the UK’s 5G network. However, this was on the condition that Huawei is banned from the most sensitive parts of the network and limited to a market cap of 35%.
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Since then, the political winds have changed for Huawei and increasingly anti-China sentiments in the UK – stemming from China’s early handling of the coronavirus pandemic and its controversial Hong Kong security law – have fuelled a small rebellion from Tory MPs.
Fresh US sanctions have reportedly changed the UK’s cyber intelligence agency that view that Huawei can be risk-managed. In May, the US banned Chinese companies from using its 5G chips, which the National Cyber Security Centre reportedly fears will make it harder for it to vet Huawei’s equipment.
These sanctions, combined with geopolitical tensions, have made a Huawei U-turn highly likely tomorrow – but the exact details remain unclear.
“5G is likely to turbocharge the British economy, and with that comes cybersecurity challenges that we are not yet used to,” said Jake Moore, cybersecurity specialist at internet security firm ESET.
“Huawei or not, such 5G infrastructure will enable quicker, more adaptable cyber-attacks. Regardless of privacy fears, there is a potential risk in the rise in cybercrime as 5G is likely to facilitate a strong digital economy in the form of faster download time, the adaptation of AI and more.”