Huawei consulted on network exclusion – but government claims ban will not be reversed

DCMS indicates feedback exercise, in which vendor is being asked to provide views on its proposed ban from the UK’s next-generation networks, is a legal requirement

Credit: Matti Blume/CC BY-SA 4.0    Image has been cropped

The government has opened a public consultation with Huawei on the vendor’s planned exclusion from the UK’s next-generation networks – but claims the decision will not be revisited or reversed.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport last week kicked off two consultations related to the decision to limit Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s full-fibre broadband infrastructure and remove its technology entirely from 5G networks.

One of these exercises is seeking views solely from Huawei itself, which is invited to respond to a full draft of the so-called ‘designation notice’ through which the government has classified the firm as a “high-risk vendor”.

It is under the auspices of this proposed classification – which “can only be issued where it is necessary in the interests of national security” – that the government intends to exclude Huawei from the UK’s network infrastructure.

The designation notice is published in full; the consultation summarises five key reasons why Huawei has been thus designated. 

The vendor, via its UK-registered subsidiary, is invited to consider these reasons and respond with “any representations you may wish to make as to whether the proposed designation notice is necessary in the interests of national security”.

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According to the government, the issues at stake include “the past conduct of the Chinese state and associated actors in carrying out cyberattacks against the UK… [and] the possibility that Huawei could be compelled by the Chinese State to act in a manner that is contrary to the UK’s national security interests”.

The government claimed the vendor is also being prohibited from UK networks on the grounds of “the low engineering and security quality of its goods and services, the manner in which US sanctions may affect the reliability of goods and services… [and] the risk of national dependency on Huawei, if action were not taken to limit its share of the market”.

The vendor has until 11.45pm on 21 March to submit its views on these matters. Once this deadline has passed, government will aim to respond – if necessary – within 12 weeks.

Documents accompanying the consultation state that the responses received “will inform any final, post-consultation decision on whether to issue the designation notice”. 

But, when asked by PublicTechnology, DCMS indicated that there is no intention to revisit or reconsider the decision to exclude Huawei. Undertaking the consultations fulfils the government’s legal requirements under the Telecommunications (Security) Act legislation passed last year, the department said.

In an accompanying press release, digital secretary Nadine Dorries described the launch of the process as “the next step in removing the risks posed by Huawei”. 

“The government is committed to ensuring the security and resilience of our phone and internet networks,” she added. “Last year we brought in new laws to protect UK infrastructure from high-risk vendors and issue tough sanctions on providers which fall short of our high security standards.”

‘Fairness and proportionality’
The other of the two consultations is “seeking views on the fairness and proportionality” of the government’s proposed timelines for the removal or limitation of incumbent Huawei kit, the embargo on the acquisition and installation of any further equipment, and the potential penalties for telecoms firms that contravene the ban – which include fines of up £100,000 for each day the company in questions remains in breach.

A total of 34 providers of telecoms services and products are invited to respond to the consultation, including BT, Vodafone, KCOM, Tesco Mobile, and Sky. Huawei is also being given the chance to contribute.

Since the end of 2020, 5G network providers have been barred from buying any new Huawei equipment. A ban on installing any more of the Chinese vendor’s technology in their networks followed on 30 September 2021, and the proportion of both 5G and fibre “access networks” comprised of Huawei components must be brought within a target of 35% by 31 July 2023.

Any of the firm’s “high data rate transmission equipment” must be entirely excised from all networks by 31 December 2025, while the end of 2027 marks the cut-off for completely removing any trace of Huawei from the 5G network – including both sensitive and non-sensitive areas.

Firms wishing to respond are asked to provide answers to one or more of 35 questions set out by the government. 

These include multiple questions on whether the deadlines and extent of the ban are proportionate to the government’s aims and concerns. 

Telcos are also invited to share their concerns on a wide range of topics, including details of any anticipated “practical difficulties [in] the removal of Huawei equipment”, “concerns about the way in which the 35% cap is calculated”, and issues with how the government intends to monitor progress and risk in the coming years.

The deadline for this consultation is also 21 March.


Sam Trendall

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