U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered communications suppliers in the country to stop using Huawei equipment and remove that equipment from England’s 5G network by 2027.
The move is a reversal of a previous stance in which the U.K. government’s National Security Council (NSC) agreed to allow “high risk” vendors to bid for non-critical areas of 5G infrastructure. The move went against the U.S., which added Huawei and its affiliates to the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) Entity List. The Trump Administration’s move prevented U.S. companies from working with the Chinese equipment giant without having to pass several hurdles.
The executive order from the Trump Administration was issued because it believes that using equipment from Huawei may be a threat to national security due to the alleged ties the company has to the Chinese government. The Trump Administration believes that the equipment may be used to spy on consumers or national interests. The order also recommended that allies of the U.S. government should also blacklist Huawei, with Australia and New Zealand following suit. However, many European countries have not agreed and vowed to determine independently whether to use Huawei or not.
U.K. digital secretary Oliver Dowden said that because 5G is a transformative technology for the country, security in the infrastructure is paramount.
“Following U.S. sanctions against Huawei and updated technical advice from our cyber experts, the government has decided it is necessary to ban Huawei from our 5G networks,” Dowden said. “No new kit is to be added from January 2021, and U.K. 5G networks will be Huawei free by the end of 2027. This decisive move provides the industry with the clarity and certainty it needs to get on with delivering 5G across the U.K.”
Dowden said that it needs to ensure that it protects its other vendors in the market — Nokia and Ericsson — and will hunt for new suppliers such as Samsung or NEC as well.
“We’re delighted the government has listened to us and will start stripping Huawei out right now,” conservative member of Parliament Bob Seely told Bloomberg. “However, there are a number of colleagues who may seek to amend the 2027 date. They may use the government’s 2027 date as a starting point to remove Huawei entirely from the networks and seek to make it sooner.”
Chinese operators expect to have 143 million subscribers at the end of 2020, representing 70% of total connections worldwide. By contrast, U.S. operators will reach about 28 million subscribers by the end of next year and by 2025 China will amass 1.1 billion 5G subscribers with the U.S. at 318 million. Commercialized roll out of 5G in China started in November of last year.
Huawei is forecast to become the leading commercial provider of 5G, in part because it is heavily subsidized by the Chinese government and because it has already shipped nearly 7 million 5G smartphones in 2019.
To combat this, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators has introduced legislation to encourage the development of home-grown 5G networking equipment as an alternative to products from Chinese equipment providers Huawei and ZTE.
The bipartisan legislation, called the Utilizing Strategic Allied (USA) Telecommunications Act, would encourage competition with Huawei using U.S. software advantages and accelerating development of an open-architecture model to form alternative vendors to enter the market for network components, rather than having Huawei provide the end-to-end equipment for the entire 5G network.
“This disappointing decision is bad news for anyone in the U.K. with a mobile phone. It threatens to move Britain into the digital slow lane, push up bills and deepen the digital divide,” a Huawei spokesman told Reuters. “Instead of ‘levelling up’ the government is levelling down and we urge them to reconsider. We remain confident that the new U.S. restrictions would not have affected the resilience or security of the products we supply to the U.K.”