The UK’s culture secretary has announced that Chinese company Huawei will be stripped completely from the UK’s 5G network by 2027 – just six months after the government confirmed the firm would play a major role in the nation’s communications network.
Oliver Dowden told telecoms companies they have seven years to remove all Huawei kit from the 5G network and that they will be banned from buying any new equipment from December 31 this year.
The decision is expected to cost £2 billion and delay the rolling out of 5G across the UK by up to three years.
Tory rebels scathe latest U-turn
The statement risks further-worsening relations with China but it has been widely welcomed – especially in the US and on Conservative backbenches.
However, the government’s U-turn does not go far enough for some Tory rebels who are scathing about contradictions in Dowden’s statement.
Former Tory-leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith spearheads the rebels and asked: “So it there are risks in 5G why are they [Huawei] not a risk to us generally?”
He has called on the government “to ban Huawei althogether” and is highly critical that today’s announcement allows Huawei kit for 2G, 3G and 4G to remain in use until it is obsolete.
Dowden claimed the UK is now on an “irreversible path” to stripping out “high risk vendors” from the 5G network by the time of the next general election and added that “the reality of the 5G network is that it will be fundamentally different”.
“In turn 5G will be replaced by 6G and in all of that Huawei will be absent,” said Dowden.
Ditching Huawei will cost billions and blackouts
The culture secretary told the commons there would be a “cumulative delay” arising from the decision of two to three years, will cost up to £2 billion and conceded: “This will have real consequences for the connections on which all our constituents rely.”
The final decision was taken by the prime minister at this morning’s National Security Council meeting and comes just six months after the government gave the green-light for Huawei to provide up to 35% of the “none-core factors” of the UK’s 5G network.
At the start of January Johnson asked “what’s the alternative?” in his first public interview of 2020.
He said then: “The British public deserve to have access to the best possible technology. We want to put in gigabit broadband for everybody. Now if people oppose one brand or another then they have to tell us what’s the alternative.”
It seemed there was none then because by the end of the month the government confirmed Huawei’s continued involvement which foreign secretary Dominic Raab described as “the right choice” despite also calling Huawei a “high risk vendor”.
In the months since, relations between China and the West have declined dramatically with conspiracy theories concerning the coronavirus repeated by the US president who also imposed new sanctions on Beijing, including banning the sale of US components used in Huawei equipment.
BT chief warns of outages and security risks
Responding to today’s announcement, the chief executive of BT Philip Jansen warned of “outages” and potential security risks by stopping work with Huawei during the 5G network upgrade and roll-out.
“Huawei has been in the telecoms infrastructure for about 20 years and a big supplier to BT and many others in the UK telecoms industry,” Jansen told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday.
“It is all about timing and balance. So if you want to have no Huawei in the whole of the telecoms infrastructure across the whole of the UK, I think that’s impossible to do in under 10 years.”
His comments that the industry would need a seven-year window to remove Huawei from the 5G network appears to have been listened to by Downing Street given the 2027 deadline announced today.