The UK government has confirmed a ban on using equipment from Chinese supplier Huawei in 5G networks, due to national security risks. Under the new plan, UK operators will be banned from acquiring new Huawei 5G equipment after 31 December 2020 and will have until the end of 2027 to replace existing Huawei equipment in network elements used for 5G. The government also plans to recommend fibre networks don’t use Huawei equipment.
The UK decided in January to exclude so-called high-risk vendors from core parts of 5G networks and limit the role of risky suppliers in other parts of the mobile networks. Huawei was expected to fall under the designation of high-risk vendors, after already being subject to increased security checks in the UK for several years.
The government sought new advice from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) after the US imposed new sanctions against Huawei in May. These sanctions are expected to limit the company’s access to components from US-based suppliers and increase its reliance on Chinese elements. The NCSC found that “there are no alternatives [to US suppliers] which we have sufficient confidence in”, and this makes it “impossible to continue to guarantee the security of Huawei equipment in the future”, according to the digital secretary Oliver Dowden.
Fibre networks to transition away from Huawei
Dowden announced the decision in parliament, saying the existing restrictions on Huawei in sensitive and critical parts of the network also remain in place. Furthermore, the government will be recommending that fibre network operators also transition away from purchasing new Huawei equipment. A technical consultation will be held to see how long this will take, given only one other supplier has been identified to supply the full-fbre infrastructure targeted in the UK. The government expects a transition period of “no longer than two years”, the secretary said.
The government said the decision strikes the right balance between ensuring sufficient broadband infrastructure with protecting national security. It must still pass legislation to implement the proposals and said it would introduce a Telecoms Security Bill this autumn. This should be passed into law before the next general election, making it illegal for operators to purchase Huawei 5G equipment, the digital secretary said.
5G roll-out delayed, at higher cost
Dowden said the decision to ban Huawei equipment from next year would delay the roll-out of 5G networks by around a year and add up to GBP 500 million in costs. Requiring operators also to scrap existing Huawei equipment by 2027 will increase the bill by around GBP 2 billion and extend the delay in 5G networks to 2-3 years. However, the deadline of 2027 should provide enough time to ensure there are no disruptions to services, he said.
The legislation is also expected to develop a UK policy on supporting supply chains in the sector and encouraging local development of non-risky suppliers. The aim is to make multi-vendor networks the industry standard, the secretary said.
Industry group TechUK said this should mean government support for the emerging OpenRAN standards and the creation of a National Telecoms Lab to help diversify the telecoms supply base. The group said “strikes the right balance between resilience and ensuring that the UK can maintain its position as a 5G leader”.