Six months after giving Huawei the green light to continue operating in the UK’s telecommunications network, the government has made a screeching U-turn and banned all new Huawei 5G technology from 2021.
It has also established a timetable for removing existing Huawei 5G technology from the network by 2027.
Culture secretary Oliver Dowden warned that the UK Huawei ban will delay the country’s 5G rollout by a year.
“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,” he told the House of Commons today while announcing the decision.
What has the reaction been to the Huawei 5G ban?
Unsurprisingly, Huawei has pointed to how its future had “become politicised”, in reference to intense lobbying from the US which under Trump has become increasingly anti-China.
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Ed Brewster, a spokesperson for Huawei UK, said:
“This disappointing decision is bad news for anyone in the UK with a mobile phone. It threatens to move Britain into the digital slow lane, push up bills and deepen the digital divide. Instead of ‘levelling up’ the government is levelling down and we urge them to reconsider. We remain confident that the new US restrictions would not have affected the resilience or security of the products we supply to the UK.”
He added that Huawei will “conduct a detailed review” into how the UK Huawei ban will impact its customers in the UK, chief among them Vodafone and BT.
How Tory rebels reacted to the Huawei ban
The government’s climbdown comes after its decision in January, which gave Huawei restricted access to the non-sensitive parts of the network with a market cap limited at 35%.
That decision angered some Conservative MPs, who then voted against a telecommunications bill in March in protest – reducing Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s 80-seat majority to 24.
Today’s announcement has been met with mixed reaction from those MPs.
Bobby Seely MP, co-ordinator of the Huawei Interest Group set up by Tory rebels concerned about the Chinese firm, said he “very strongly welcomes” the UK Huawei ban but said it was a “partial decision”.
He said he has concerns that there was no ban on existing 3G and 4G Huawei equipment, which will be allowed to be replaced at the end of its product lifecycle. He also wants a closer “rip-out date” than 2027.
“Huawei is, by government’s own definition, a high-risk vendor. We should not, on principle, have high-risk vendors in our critical national infrastructure. There have been a myriad of reasons put forward to block high-risk vendors; security, quality of work, human rights, China’s potential influence over the UK and its political and economic leadership.”
He added that it’s “not fundamentally an issue about Huawei but an issue about China. We badly need a new assessment of our relationship with China.”
Reaction from the telecommunications carriers
Some of the companies operating the mobile network built with Huawei technology have been vocal about the disruption a UK Huawei ban would have.
Yesterday, BT’s chief executive warned that it would be “impossible” to completely remove Huawei from the network by 2030.
In a statement today, the firm said:
“We note the government’s announcement today relating to the use of Huawei equipment in the UK. The security and resilience of our networks is an absolute priority for BT.
“While we have prepared for a range of scenarios, we need to further analyse the details and implications of this decision before taking a view of potential costs and impacts.”
Vodafone said it is “studying” today’s decision.
“We acknowledge the government’s understanding of the complexity of this issue and the desire to minimise disruption to consumers, businesses and public services through an adequate timeframe for implementation,” said a Vodafone spokesperson.
“Obviously we are disappointed because this decision – as the government has highlighted today – will add delay to the roll out of 5G in the UK and will result in additional costs for the industry.
They added they will work with government to work out the cost of diversifying the network through means such as OpenRAN, which allows telecommunications technology to be more interoperable.
What are Huawei’s rivals saying?
Huawei’s rivals have tried to avoid wading into the debate, eager to avoid any perception that they are capitalising on the misfortune of the world’s largest telecoms provider.
Swedish telecommunications firm Ericsson and Huawei rival sought to strike an upbeat tone.
Arun Bansal, president of Europe and Latin America, Ericsson, said: “Today’s decision removes the uncertainty that was slowing down investment decisions around the deployment of 5G in the UK.
“It is now time for the industry to come together and start delivering on the promise of creating a world-leading 5G network for the people, businesses and economy of the UK. Ericsson has the technology, experience and supply chain capacity to help accomplish this, and we stand ready to work with the UK operators to meet their timetable, with no disruption to customers.”
Finnish telecommunications firm Nokia, meanwhile, announced shortly before the Huawei ban that it has developed software that can upgrade 4G radio stations to 5G without engineers physically replacing equipment.
“We have the capacity and expertise to replace all of the Huawei equipment in the UK’s networks at scale and speed, and are ready to step up to support the implementation of the UK government decision with minimal impact on the people using our customers’ networks,” said Cormac Whelan, head of Nokia Britain.