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UK network operators fear Huawei uncertainty could derail 5G roll-out

Written by Tue 11 Jun 2019

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Firms reportedly demand clarity on where the Government stands on the Chinese company’s equipment, amid concerns it could hit the 5G roll-out

The UK’s network operators have reportedly written to the Government asking for it to be clearer about its position on Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, over fears it could impact on the country’s roll-out of 5G.

According to the BBC, a group of operators have penned a draft letter which could be finalised and sent to Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill as soon as this week, requesting an urgent meeting between industry leaders and the Government to share their concerns, as they hold off from investing in infrastructure while unanswered questions loom over Huawei.

The technology company is now the world’s second-largest smartphone manufacturer and a market leader in equipment needed to build 5G infrastructure, but the UK is yet to make a decision on whether Huawei should be part of the 5G infrastructure.

Fears have been raised that the company and its network equipment could be used by the Chinese state as a route to spy on the West – which Huawei has strongly denied – while the US is pressuring allies to distance themselves from the firm.

In April, details of a meeting of the UK’s National Security Council to discuss Huawei’s place in UK telecoms infrastructure were leaked, leading to a report that Prime Minister Theresa May would allow Huawei’s presence despite concerns raised by several Cabinet ministers.

Following an investigation into the leak, then-defence secretary Gavin Williamson was sacked, though he has denied being behind it.

The Government has since said no decision has yet been made over Huawei’s presence in 5G networks.

It is not clear which operators contributed to the letter, though BT – which owns EE – commented: “We are in regular contact with UK Government around this topic, and continue to discuss the impact of possible regulation on UK telecoms networks.”

Vodafone also added: “We do not comment on draft documents.

“We would ask for any decision regarding the future use of Huawei equipment in the UK not to be rushed, but based on all the facts.”

Responding to the report, a Government spokesman said: “The security and resilience of the UK’s telecoms networks is of paramount importance.

“We have robust procedures in place to manage risks to national security and are committed to the highest possible security standards.

“The Telecoms Supply Chain Review will be announced in due course.

“We have been clear throughout the process that all network operators will need to comply with the Government’s decision.”

Senior executives from BT, O2, Three and Vodafone gave evidence to the Science and Technology Committee on Monday, unanimously agreeing that they believe any risk can be managed in certain elements of their networks, while also warning that a ban on Huawei’s 5G equipment in the UK could delay deployment by years.

Mobile network Three has confirmed it will launch its 5G network in August and plans to reach 25 UK towns and cities before the end of 2019. EE launched their 5G network last week, and Vodafone is due to begin rolling out its own network at the beginning of July.

Written by Tue 11 Jun 2019


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