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26th Sep 2020

UK bans Huawei from 5G network in major U-turn

  • 5G is expected to become the connectivity-infrastructure that will pave the way for new services, such as self-driving cars or industrial robotics (Photo: Kārlis Dambrāns)

British prime minister Boris Johnson has announced that Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei will be completely removed from the UK's national 5G networks by the end of 2027, despite London having approved a restricted role for the Chinese firm only earlier this year.

The decision was taken in a meeting of the National Security Council on Tuesday (14 July), following new advice by the UK's National Cyber Security Centre on the impact of US sanctions against the telecommunications firm.

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"5G will be transformative for our country, but only if we have confidence in the security and resilience of the infrastructure it is built upon," said UK's secretary of state in charge of digital policies, Oliver Dowden.

"Following US 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," he added, referring to the sanctions introduced by Washington in May to disrupt Huawei's chips manufacturing.

However, the UK's announcement follows a tug-of-war over Huawei, led by the US, which has completely banned it from its 5G networks over perceived security risks - pushing its allies to do the same.

And internal pressure from some members of Johnson's Conservative party, who have criticised China's new security law on Hong Kong, its treatment of ethnic Uighurs and Huawei's links to Chinese intelligence services.

Additionally, Johnson imposed a total ban on the purchase of any new 5G kit from next year - forcing British full-fibre operators to transition away from purchasing new Huawei equipment.

The UK expects this transition to last no longer than two years.

Huawei described Tuesday's announcement as a "disappointing decision" and "bad news for anyone in the UK with a mobile phone".

"Regrettably our future in the UK has become politicised, this is about US trade policy and not security," the Chinese company said in a statement.

Nokia and Ericsson now

Meanwhile, Dowden told lawmakers in the parliament on Tuesday that the UK wants to ensure the role of European firms like Nokia and Ericsson in Britain's 5G and get new suppliers in - starting with South Korea's Samsung and Japan's NEC.

Following the announcement, the head of Nokia Britain, Cormac Whelan, said that his company has "the capacity and expertise to replace all of the Huawei equipment in the UK's networks at scale and speed".

While Ericsson president for Europe and Latin America, Arun Bansal, stressed that the UK's decision will remove the uncertainty that was slowing down investment decisions around the deployment of 5G in the UK.

While 3G made mobile internet possible and 4G allowed mobile broadband, 5G is expected to become the connectivity infrastructure that will pave the way for new product and services, such as self-driving cars or industrial robotics.

EU rules leave 5G networks open for Huawei

The European Commission unveiled its "toolbox" of security standards for 5G - without excluding any specific telecom supplier, amid concerns over Huawei's links to China's intelligence services.

Some EU states face delays in 5G preparation

National governments secured a one-year extension for publishing plans to make radio frequencies available for mobile communications - but some were nevertheless unable to meet the deadline.

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