UK 5G network faces three-year delay and £2bn extra cost as government confirms Huawei expulsion

The Chinese tech vendor’s kit will be removed entirely by 2027, digital secretary Oliver Dowden has announced

Credit: Andre M. Chang/Zuma Press/PA Images

The government has backtracked on its decision to permit Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s 5G network in a move which will cost up to £2bn and delay the technology’s rollout by as long as three years.

Digital 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 what was defined as the network’s peripheral technology.

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

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

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“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 Cyber Security 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 the digital secretary 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 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 £2bn. This will have real consequences for the connection on 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.”

The crackdown comes after a group of ten Conservative MPs urged prime minister Boris Johnson not to countenance an “unreasonable delay” in removing the Chinese firm from the UK’s high-speed communications network.

In a letter to Johnson on Tuesday, the group, led by former party leader Iain Duncan Smith, said it was impossible for the UK to have “secure networks” if Huawei technology was used within them.

“Knowing how lightly China takes the assurances it has given, many colleagues are even more uncomfortable about a role for Huawei in our networks. Given that, we fervently hope you will end Huawei’s ability to supply the UK’s critical national infrastructure,” they wrote. “We do not believe it is possible for the UK to have both secure networks and a role for Huawei within them.”

They added: “It remains the case that, under China’s national intelligence law, Huawei is obliged to co-operate with Chinese intelligence and to deny that it does so. The nature of Chinese law is such that Huawei is — to all intents and purposes — a state-owned enterprise. By doing so, the government has an opportunity to safeguard the interests of the UK while projecting clearly our values and leading the free world.”


Sam Trendall

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