Restricting Huawei', ZTE's access to 5G chipsets from US semiconductor companies could prove to be more harmful to American tech ambitions

Are geopolitics strangling the global telco supply chain? Source: Shutterstock

UK Huawei decision could leave country in 5G ‘slow lane’, firm says

  • All Huawei components must be stripped from country’s 5G network by 2027, with a ban on purchasing 5G equipment taking effect from the end of the year
  • “This is about US trade policy and not security,” a Huawei spokesman has said, adding that the move will hinder UK 5G progress

UK telcos will be banned from purchasing 5G equipment from Huawei entirely from the end of this year, and equipment must be stripped from the country’s 5G networks by 2027. 

That’s a result of a u-turn decision by the UK government, following previous decisions to allow Huawei a limited role outside of “sensitive and critical parts of the network.”

A ban on the Chinese technology firm could leave the country in the “slow lane” when it comes to global 5G development, a Huawei spokesperson said. 

The government acknowledged that the ban would delay the rollout of 5G in the UK by two to three years and increase costs for phone companies by up to £2 billion (US$2.5 billion). 

Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said the decision followed a review of new US sanctions – which remove the firm’s access to products which have been built based on US semiconductor technology – by the National Cyber Security Council (NSCC), part of ‘spy’ agency GCHQ.

The new restrictions were a “game-changer”, the NSCC said, and would make it “impossible” to continue to guarantee the security of Huawei equipment in the future, as equipment could not be considered safe if it had to rely on non-US components. 

“Following US sanctions against Huawei and updated technical advice from our cyber experts, the government has decided it is necessary to ban Huawei from our 5G networks,” said Dowden. 

“This decisive move provides the industry with the clarity and certainty it needs to get on with delivering 5G across the UK.” 

In January, the UK officially approved Huawei’s involvement in building the nation’s 5G infrastructure, but also categorized Huawei as a “high risk vendor.”

A cap of 35% was placed on Huawei’s participation in the development of UK 5G networks. The firm was also excluded from supplying technology to “sensitive parts” of the network, which includes locations near military bases and nuclear sites.

However, the UK has faced increased pressure from its ally to fold any business with the tech company which had been a global 5G technology leader before being hamstrung by US sanctions. 

Commenting on the announcement, Huawei UK spokesman Ed Brewster said the decision was “bad news for anyone in the UK with a mobile phone.” 

It threatens to move Britain into the digital slow lane, push up bills and deepen the digital divide.

“Instead of ‘levelling up’, the government is levelling down and we urge them to reconsider.”

Brewster said that US restrictions would not have compromised the resilience or security of Huawei’s products supplied to the UK, adding regret that the company’s future in the UK had become “politicized”.

“[…] this is about US trade policy and not security,” he added. 

Beijing has threatened that there will be “consequences” against the UK if it overturns its previous decision to allow Huawei a limited role in the country’s infrastructure, which some speculate could manifest in extensive state-led cyber-attacks or trade sanctions.