Telecom providers in the United Kingdom will have to stop installing Huawei equipment for 5G network infrastructure from September 2021. Oliver Dowden, the country’s Digital Secretary, called for the “complete removal of high-risk vendors” from UK’s 5G networks, reported The Guardian and BBC News. The government also unveiled a “5G Supply Chain Diversification Strategy” that hopes to ensure UK is “never again dependent on a small number of suppliers.”
Dowden’s announcement comes a day ahead of the Boris Johnson administration’s new telecom security bill being laid in the parliament. The law, if passed, will give the UK the ability to set tighter restrictions and impose legal duties on telecom companies.
No new equipment from September next year
The UK had earlier this year decided to phase out Huawei from its 5G infrastructure by 2027. Telecom operators must now stop installing Huawei equipment in 5G networks (starting September 2021), but they can still maintain previously-installed Huawei equipment, Dowden reportedly said. Presumably, existing equipment will have to be phased out by 2027.
In the diversification strategy document, Dowden said that the government wants most of UK’s population to have 5G signal by 2027 so that it may benefit from its social and economic advantages. However, he said, 5G’s potential could be realised only if the infrastructure is secure and resilient. To that end, the government has three core aims — supporting incumbent suppliers; attract new suppliers to UK; and accelerate development of “open-interface solutions”. A fund of £250 million has been earmarked to start work on this strategy.
- ‘The case for diversification’: The government noted that due to the restriction on Huawei, UK is dependent on just two equipment providers — Nokia and Ericsson. “This represents an intolerable resilience risk and absent intervention it is unlikely that the market will diversify,” it said.
Dowden said UK is working closely with its Five Eyes partners — Australia, United States, Canada and New Zealand — on the diversification (read: reduce dependence on Huawei) of 5G networks.
Global distrust of Huawei, Chinese tech
The United Kingdom’s aversion to Huawei is part of a global argument that hopes to keep Chinese telecom companies including Huawei and ZTE out of 5G networks. The United States, which is effectively leading this informal global alliance, has declared the companies as “national security threats”. The US claimed that these companies were likely cooperating with Chinese intelligence agencies and the country’s military. In 2019, they were placed on the Department of Commerce’s Entity List, which made it difficult for them to buy or sell American technology. Off late, the US is also offering monetary help to developing countries that are trying to reduce their reliance on Chinese equipment manufacturers. Australia, another Five Eyes country, was one of the first countries to ban Huawei for being a “high-risk” vendor in 2018. Recently, Sweden banned equipment from Huawei and ZTE.
While India is yet to announce a 5G policy, telecom operators have already tried to avoid Chinese vendors. In August, Airtel was reported to be applying for 5G trials without Huawei and ZTE. Jio, on the other hand, has taken pride in the fact that it has no Chinese tech at all. Only this month, India and UK signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to work closely on developing 5G and telecommunications. Around a month, India had announced cooperation with Japan on 5G and 5G Plus technologies, with support from the US and Australia.
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