In a major U-turn, it seems the UK Government is set to ban Huawei from having a role in 5G networks. Boris Johnson announced back in January that Huawei was allowed to remain in up to 35 percent of the network providing it wasn’t part of the ‘core’ – the crucial part.
Most network providers are either using other vendors like Ericsson in their core networks or, like EE, are phasing Huawei out.
However, Huawei remains a huge part of mobile networks in the UK and elsewhere and it’s hard to conclude that this won’t mean the UK is disadvantaged by a ban on Huawei gear since it involves the removal of a lot of perfectly decent equipment.
The major issue for networks will be cost – EE previously said it wouldn’t be able to remove the Huawei gear in its core network for two years later than planned taking it to the end of 2022. That was because of the major cost in removing it. BT/EE already suggested that the January ruling – taking the amount of Huawei kit to 35 percent – would cost it somewhere in the region of £500 million.
Huawei has operated in the UK for 20 years and the company’s stuff is everywhere from the phone mast on top of the tower block to the green cabinet at the end of your street.
It seems the change of heart has come after a new GCHQ report – as well as increasing pressure from the US Government. The US telecoms regulator – the FCC – has recently designated Huawei and ZTE as ‘national security threats’ but, as with Huawei’s US trade ban, has not released any evidence to this effect publicly.
It is tempting to believe that the US is concerned about competition; while 5G gear is made by Ericsson, Samsung, Nokia and Huawei, there is no major US vendor for the technology. And Huawei telecoms gear has proliferated primarily because it is cheaper than its rivals.