Huawei equipment banned from UK 5G network

14 July 2020   By Dr Lucy Brown, Editor

UK mobile companies will be banned from buying any new equipment from Huawei for their 5G networks after 31 December 2020.

All Huawei equipment in the UK's 5G mobile networks must also be stripped out by 2027 following confirmation from the Government that a Huawei ban is going ahead.

In addition, companies are being advised to transition away from using Huawei equipment in their full-fibre broadband networks, although the timeline on this is vaguer.

The decision follows years of uncertainty about Huawei's role in the UK's 5G network, even after they were given the go-ahead to be partially involved in January 2020.

huawei 5g mobile

5G ban

Under the new rules announced by the Government, UK companies can no longer buy Huawei equipment to be installed in their 5G networks after 31 December 2020.

It's part of a phased ban of Huawei technology in the UK's 5G network which will be concluded by 2027 when all their equipment must be stripped out of the 5G network.

The Government expects the move to delay the rollout of 5G in the UK by a year and intend to enshrine in law what they have called an "irreversible" path for the complete removal of Huawei equipment from the UK's 5G networks by the next election so the decision couldn't be overturned before 2027 when all equipment must be removed by operators.

They have advised companies to buy enough spare equipment before the end of 2020 to sustain their networks until their networks go Huawei-free no later than 2027.

The ban doesn't apply to 2G, 3G and 4G equipment, and companies are expected to transition their full fibre broadband networks away from Huawei equipment within two years.

What changed with Huawei?

Following a long review into Huawei's involvement in the UK 5G network which was delayed several times, it was announced in January 2020 that the company's equipment could be used in up to 35% of the non-core 5G network.

Since then, however, the US has increased their controls on Huawei equipment meaning no US technology can be used in Huawei's chips and no tools containing US technology can be used in the making of Huawei equipment either.

This might sound technical, but what it means in practice is that Huawei's ability to produce state-of-the-art technology has been affected and security chiefs in the UK have deemed the security and reliability of the chips they produce instead can't be guaranteed.

Huawei understandably argue against this analysis, but the Government has made the decision and this time it's likely to stick.

Next steps

The driving force behind this policy change is that these latest US sanctions have had a significant impact on the way Huawei constructs its equipment.

So, while past actions by the US have put curbs on the ability of Huawei mobile phones to access Google services, this more technical sanction has affected the equipment they provide to underlying networks and so is more far-reaching than previous trade restrictions between US companies and Chinese ones.

It's also essentially separate to any risks about spying and backdoors into Huawei equipment which were deemed to be manageable by the National Cyber Security Centre back in February 2019.

UK network operators will now have up to seven years to remove Huawei kit from their 5G networks, a longer period than some were expecting yet one that was welcome to BT and Vodafone who warned a shorter timeframe could cause blackouts.

Broadband companies will also be expected to transition away from using Huawei equipment in their fibre networks, again affecting BT's Openreach which supplies the underlying infrastructure for many of the UK's broadband providers.

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