Government expected to give mobile operators five years to remove all Huawei equipment after companies warned of service blackouts
The UK government is expected to announce a 2025 deadline for the removal of all Huawei equipment from the country’s mobile phone networks later this week.
Culture secretary Oliver Dowden is expected to announce the move in a statement at the House of Commons on Tuesday, amidst political wrangling over the issue.
Huawei has supplied gear to UK mobile phone companies for two decades, and in January the government said it would allow the company to build up to 35 percent of the country’s 5G network, while restricting it from sensitive “core” areas.
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.
Vodafone and BT said last week they would need at least five years, and ideally seven, in order to remove Huawei equipment from their networks.
To do so in less time would cause widespread blackouts, the companies said.
Andrea Dona, head of networks Vodafone UK, told MPs the operator needed to have a “sensible time scale” of several years to implement any further Huawei restrictions, with a minimum transitional plan spanning five years.
BT chief technology officer Howard Watson said it was “logistically impossible” to remove all Huawei equipment in a three-year period, in part because the gear powers 2G and 4G as well as 5G networks.
“That would literally mean blackouts for customers on 4G and 2G as well as 5G throughout the country,” Watson said.
Ministers had pushed for a 2023 deadline in order to have the removal process completed before the next General Election, the Telegraph reported.
After initially proposing a 2029 deadline, the government agreed to compromise on a 2025 date, the paper said.
The US is to announce the results of a review of its May sanctions next week, and the UK announcement is planned for the announcement.
The country is not expected to lift its sanctions.
“The UK Government should not make a hasty decision without all of the evidence,” Huawei vice president Victor Zhang told the Telegraph.
“The 5G decision is vital to the UK’s ‘Gigabit’ strategy and the future of its digital economy.”