Vodafone Warns UK Will Lose 5G Lead If Huawei Kit Is Removed

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Operator issues second warning about removal of Huawei kit from UK’s mobile networks, and said effort should focus on expanding 5G coverage

Vodafone has issued a warning about the removal of Huawei equipment from mobile networks on national security grounds.

The warning comes amid growing pressure on the British government for a ban on equipment from Huawei, as Western nations reconsider their relationship with China following the Coronavirus pandemic.

This is the second time that Vodafone has warned that the UK will lose its 5G lead, if Huawei equipment is removed. In March 2019, Vodafone warned that excluding Huawei in the UK’s 5G rollout would mean “hundreds of millions” in extra expenses and would likely also cost the UK its leadership in 5G readiness.

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Huawei equipment

Vodafone already said in February this year that it will remove Huawei equipment from the sensitive, core parts of its mobile networks across Europe, which will cost it 200m euros (£169m) over the next five years.

It came after the British government in January decided to officially approve Huawei’s involvement in 5G networks in the United Kingdom.

However, it designated Huawei as a “high risk vendor” and as such the Chinese firm will be excluded from core parts of the network including all safety critical networks, with its participation capped at 35 percent..

It should be remembered that for 5G networks, three of the UK’s largest wireless providers (EE, Vodafone, and Three) all use Huawei equipment to build their 5G networks.

The only exception to this is O2, which instead opted to use 5G equipment from Ericsson and Nokia right from the start.

Vodafone warning

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing mounting pressure both from Washington and from within his own government to exclude Huawei, as the fallout from the Coronavirus pandemic continues.

This pressure increased a notch last month when the signals intelligence agency (part of GCHQ) launched an emergency review into Huawei on the back of new US sanctions aimed at the Chinese company.

And now in an interview with the Financial Times, Vodafone UK CTO Scott Petty warned against excluding Huawei kit altogether.

“The UK’s leadership in 5G will be lost if mobile operators are forced to spend time and money replacing existing equipment,” he warned.

Rather than stripping out Huawei equipment, Petty said that “efforts should instead be focused on expanding 5G coverage, developing 5G capabilities for UK industry, and investing in the next stage of this important technology”.

But the reality is that the UK is looking at reducing Britain’s broader reliance on China for critical products, after Boris Johnson instructed civil servants to make plans to end the UK’s reliance on China for vital medical supplies and other strategic imports.

Huawei has noted this, and this week pledged its “ongoing commitment” to the United Kingdom – highlighting its 20 years of presence in the British market.

Pandemic backlash

But the Chinese government facing a growing backlash over the Coronavirus pandemic, which began in China, and it has denied US allegations that it has not been transparent about the virus’ initial outbreak.

China itself is pushing ahead with plans to become less reliant on countries such as the United States, according to local media reports.

The US had previously pressured the UK and other allies to ban Huawei and other Chinese equipment makers from 5G networks on national security grounds.

US regulators last month said they would alter export laws in an effort to cut off Huawei’s access to microprocessors manufactured outside the US, but using equipment or software made by American firms.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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