UK Must Remove Huawei 5G Equipment By 2027

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson orders the removal of Huawei 5G equipment, following GCHQ recommendation and US sanction action

Mobile operators in the United Kingdom have seven years to remove all Huawei equipment from UK 5G networks.

It comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson as expected ordered Huawei equipment to be purged completely from Britain’s 5G network by 2027.

The decision will ease the pain for mobile operators, which had warned the government last week that they would need at least five years, and ideally seven, in order to remove Huawei equipment from their networks.

NCSC recommendation

To do so in less time would cause widespread blackouts, the operators had said.

The government announced the decision on Tuesday, after the Prime Minister had chaired a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC).

The decision is a u-turn from the decision that was finally reached in January this year, when the government at the time said it would allow Huawei to build up to 35 percent of the country’s 5G network, while restricting it from sensitive “core” areas.

That decision meant that Huawei would be excluded from sensitive geographic locations such as nuclear sites and military bases; and have a 35 percent cap in periphery (non-sensitive parts) of the 5G network.

But US sanctions imposed in May are seen as having a critical impact on the Chinese firm, and an assessment by the National Computer Security Centre (NCSC) last week is thought to have found that the use of Huawei gear now poses an unacceptable security risk.

Government announcement

“Huawei will be completely removed from the UK’s 5G networks by the end of 2027, following new advice produced by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) on the impact of US sanctions against the telecommunications vendor,” said the government.

“Ahead of this there will be a total ban on the purchase of any new 5G kit after 31 December 2020,” it added.

“The decision was taken today in a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) chaired by the Prime Minister, in response to new US sanctions,” said the government. “These were imposed on Huawei in May, after the UK’s initial decision on high risk vendors, and are the first of their kind removing the firm’s access to products which have been built based on US semiconductor technology.”

It said that technical experts at the NCSC had reviewed the consequences of the sanctions and concluded the company will need to do a major reconfiguration of its supply chain as it will no longer have access to the technology on which it currently relies and there are no alternatives which the government had sufficient confidence in.

“They found the new restrictions make it impossible to continue to guarantee the security of Huawei equipment in the future,” the government stated.

“As a result, ministers today agreed that UK operators should stop the purchase of Huawei equipment affected by the sanctions,” it said. “There will be a ban on the purchase of new Huawei kit for 5G from next year and it will be completely removed from 5G networks by the end of 2027.”

The existing restrictions on Huawei in sensitive and critical parts of the network remain in place.

“5G will be transformative for our country, but only if we have confidence in the security and resilience of the infrastructure it is built upon,” said Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden. “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.”

“No new kit is to be added from January 2021, and UK 5G networks will be Huawei free by the end of 2027,” he added. “ This decisive move provides the industry with the clarity and certainty it needs to get on with delivering 5G across the UK.”

“By the time of the next election we will have implemented in law an irreversible path for the complete removal of Huawei equipment from our 5G networks,” said Dowden. “The government will now seek to legislate at the earliest opportunity with a new Telecoms Security Bill to put in place the powers necessary to implement this tough new telecoms security framework.”

Disappointing decision

But for Huawei, the decision is a bitter blow to swallow, and it believes the decision was taken because of political, and not technical reasons.

“This disappointing decision is bad news for anyone in the UK with a mobile phone,” Ed Brewster, a spokesperson for Huawei UK told Silicon UK in a statement. “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,” said Brester. “We remain confident that the new US restrictions would not have affected the resilience or security of the products we supply to the UK.”

“Regrettably our future in the UK has become politicized, this is about US trade policy and not security,” Brewster concluded. “Over the past 20 years, Huawei has focused on building a better connected UK. As a responsible business, we will continue to support our customers as we have always done.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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