Decision to remove Huawei will delay 5G rollout

The UK government has banned UK telecommunications companies from buying new Huawei 5G equipment and has said Huawei equipment must be removed from networks by 2027.

In a landmark decision, Oliver Dowden, the secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport said the move would delay the rollout of high speed 5G networks by one year.

The move comes after months of wrangling over the role of the Chinese telecoms giant in the UK’s 5G infrastructure after the United States and other UK allies raised concerns that the company’s hardware could provide a ‘backdoor’ to Chinese intelligence agencies - something Huawei has vigorously denied.

In January, the government announced that it would allow Huawei to supply infrastructure to ‘non-core’ parts of the 5G network, with a limit on its reach of 35 per cent.

However, following pressure from security allies and Conservative MPs, the government has revised its position. The US government has imposed sanctions upon Huawei and other Chinese technology companies it alleges are backed by the Chinese military.

Speaking in the Commons Dowden said: “"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.”

The decision, which has been taken to mirror US moves to curb use of any future 5Gequipment, will mean that the government will not insist upon the removal of 2G, 3G and 4G equipment produced by Huawei from UK telecoms networks.

The government will also “transition away” from using Huawei equipment in its full-fibre broadband network in the next two years, to avoid the UK becoming fully reliant on equipment supplied by Nokia’s infrastructure arm, which could create competition issues.

Because the US sanctions only affect future equipment, the government does not believe there is a security justification for removing 2G, 3G and 4G equipment supplied by Huawei.

Conservative MPs had threatened to rebel over the issue and were demanding ban on Huawei equipment in 5G networks by 2024.

However, Dowden said the ban would now apply fully from 2027 in order to avoid disruption to the UK’s mobile phone network.

Responding to the government’s decision, 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: “Regrettably our future in the UK has become politicized, this is about US trade policy and not security. Over the past 20 years, Huawei has focused on building a better connected UK. As a responsible business, we will continue to support our customers as we have always done.”

The company said it would conduct a detailed review of what today’s announcement means for its business in the UK and said it would continue to work with the UK government on these issues.

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