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Tue, 20 October 2020

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Government u-turn on Huawei to cost £2bn and delay 5G rollout by 3 years as firm banned from UK by 2027

Government u-turn on Huawei to cost £2bn and delay 5G rollout by 3 years as firm banned from UK by 2027

Huawei will be removed from the UK's 5G network entirely by 2027

4 min read

The Government has u-turned on Huawei's involvement in the UK's 5G network in a decision which will cost up to £2billion and delay its rollout by as long as three years.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has confirmed a ban on purchasing Huawei equipment for the UK's 5G network from next January with a pledge to remove the firm's kit entirely by 2027.

The Government had announced in January that Huawei would have a non-core role in Britain's 5G network with the use of its equipment capped at 35% of the network's peripheral technology.

But major new sanctions unveiled by the US in May which banned Huawei from using American chip technology prompted a fresh safety review by the UK's National Cyber Security Centre.

Confirming the plans to MPs, he said the decision would put the UK on an "irreversible path" to removing Huawei by the next general election.

"Given the uncertainty that this creates around Huawei supply chain, the UK can no longer be confident it will be able to guarantee the security of future Huawei 5G equipment affected by the change in US foreign direct product rules," he said.

"The government agrees with the National Cybersecurity centre advice. The best way to secure our networks is for operators to stop using new affected Huawei equipment to build the UK future 5g networks.

"So to be clear, from the end of this year, telecom operators must not buy any 5G equipment from Huawei. And once the telecom security Bill is passed it will be illegal for them to do so."

But Mr Dowden said the move would result in additional costs of up to £2bn and delay the rollout of the 5G network across the UK by as long as two-three years.

"Today's decision to ban the procurement of new Huawei 5G equipment from the end of this year will delay roll out by a further year that will add up to half a billion pounds to the costs," he added.

"Requiring operators, in addition, to remove Huawei equipment from their 5G networks by 2027 will add hundreds of millions of pounds further to the cost and further delay rolled out.

"This means a cumulative delay to 5G roll out of two to three years and costs of up to 2 billion pounds. This will have real consequences for the connection on which which all our constituents rely."

Meanwhile, the cabinet minister said there was no plan to remove the firm's equipment from the existing 2G, 3G and 4G networks as he claimed there was no security risk linked to their use.

Just hours before the government ban was announced, Lord Browne of Madingley, Huawei's UK chairman confirmed he was stepping down from his role.

Speaking last week, Lord Browne, the former head of BP, said there was "no diplomacy" in the UK's approach to the firm.

He added: "The UK has had a very long relationship with China and I hope it's not one that they simply throw away."

"Incomprehensibly negligent"

But Conservative MPs urged ministers to go further, with former party leader and prominent Huawei critic Iain Duncan Smith demanding the removal of Huawei technology within five years.

"I do think by the way he can do it quicker than this,," he said.

"I was listening to the Today programme and the head of BT said, seven years, yes, but we can do it in five. So now let's bring it forward to five and make sure it happens quickly.

"There's no reason why they can't. "

And hitting out at "contradictions" from the Government, he asked why the tech firm was not also being removed from the UK's other tech networks.

"Having said he's getting rid of them in 5G - for 4g and 3g, Huawei apparently is fine," he added.

"They can go on for as long as anyone and they will be upgraded in software upgrades for next decade.

"So if there are risks in 5G, why are they not a risk to us, generally, according to this?" 

Fellow Tory MP and Huawei critic Bob Seely said he welcomed the move, but warned it was a "partial decision".

"I believe that MPs will have concerns about elements of the statement, including no ban on 3G and 4G and a rip-out date for 5G far into the distance," he said.

"It does mean Huawei’s glide path out of our Critical National Infrastructure will be slow."

Meanwhile, Labour's shadow digital minister Chi Onwurah said the approach had been "incomprehensibly negligent".

She said: "It has been clear for some time that there are serious questions over whether Huawei should be allowed to control large sections of our country's telecoms networks, yet the government refused to face reality.

"Their approach to our 5G capability, Huawei and our national security has been incomprehensibly negligent."

She added: "This is a car crash for our digital economy, but one which could have been visible from outer space.”

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