Huawei has been denied access to the UK’s 5G telecoms network just six months after it was given the all-clear by the government.
The dramatic u-turn was announced today following mounting pressure on Boris Johnson’s cabinet not to include the Chinese tech giant in Britain’s infrastructure.
In January the government said that Huawei could supply up to 35% of the equipment for the UK’s 5G plans but would be kept out of the core network.
But now it has been made clear the company will not be allowed to install any equipment at all from next year.
Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, told MPs that the government will now no longer allow Huawei to supply kit for use in 5G networks operated by the likes of BT, O2 and Three.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr. Dowden said that telecoms operators will not be allowed to buy equipment from Huawei from the end of the year and that a complete removal of all Huawei kit will take place by 2027.
‘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,’ he said.
‘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. 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.’
‘This has not been an easy decision, but it is the right one for the UK telecoms networks, for our national security and our economy, both now and indeed in the long run,’ he told MPs.
The decision comes after the United States moved to impose further sanctions on Huawei, which it believes is a tool for espionage used by the Chinese government. Last month the US Federal Communications Commission branded Huawei a’national security.’
Huawei has long denied the accusations from the Trump administration but the latest round of US sanctions have had consequences. Huawei is no longer allowed to use American-made processor chips, forcing it to look elsewhere.
This, in turn, led the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) to launch a review of the company’s involvement in national networks.
Technical experts at the NCSC reviewed the consequences of the sanctions and concluded Huawei 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 it has ‘sufficient confidence’ in.
They found the new restrictions make it impossible to continue to guarantee the security of Huawei equipment in the future.
The debate around Huawei
Here is a look at the key issues in the debate around Huawei.
What is Huawei?
Huawei is the Chinese telecoms giant which describes itself as a private company ‘fully owned by its employees’.
In recent years, its range of smartphones have become commonplace across the UK, and it is now established as one of the biggest smartphone manufacturers in the world, alongside Apple and Samsung.
In addition to making mobile devices, the firm also makes telecommunications networks.
Why is the company controversial?
Huawei has come under criticism over its alleged close ties to the Chinese state.
The country has a history of state censorship and surveillance, such as the ‘Great Firewall of China’ which blocks multiple internet services in the country and, under Chinese law, firms can be compelled to ‘support, co-operate with and collaborate in national intelligence work’.
As a result, critics of Huawei have expressed concerns that Beijing could require the firm to install technological ‘back doors’ to enable it to spy on or disrupt Britain’s communications network.
The US is a strong critic of the firm and last year President Donald Trump added Huawei to the Entity List, effectively blacklisting the firm and preventing it from trading with US companies.
Consequently, Huawei has not been able to use core Google apps on its newest smartphones as part of the Android operating system it uses to power the devices.
However the firm has always denied any suggestions of close links with the Chinese state or that it has ever been asked by Chinese authorities to help spy on others, insisting it fully abides by the laws of each country in which it operates.
How is it linked to 5G?
As well as its smartphone business, Huawei is one of the market leaders in telecoms infrastructure equipment, including that for 5G.
The next generation of mobile data communications, 5G has been rolling out to areas of the UK for the last year.
The new networks allow for larger amounts of data to be transferred at once, which could one day power new technologies such as autonomous car networks and remote surgery where specialist surgeons cannot reach a hospital physically.
As a result, a great deal of debate among telecoms firms and governments is ongoing over how to secure such a data-sensitive network, which has led to the scrutiny of Huawei.
Earlier today, former BP chief Lord Browne stepped down as the chairman of Huawei UK six months before his tenure was due to end.
‘The UK has had a very long relationship with China and I hope it’s not one that they simply throw away,’ he told Reuters last week.
A Huawei spokesperson said: ‘When Lord Browne became Chairman of Huawei UK’s board of directors in 2015, he brought with him a wealth of experience which has proved vital in ensuring Huawei’s commitment to corporate governance in the UK. He has been central to our commitment here dating back 20 years, and we thank him for his valuable contribution.’
Earlier this month, executives from Vodafone and BT told the Science and Technology Select Committee they would need at least five years to completely remove the Chinese firm’s equipment without causing disruption which could cause signal blackouts for several days.
‘Should the guidance become stricter it will have an effect, it will delay the rollout of our 5G, it will have cost implications and focus our investment in the removal of the existing equipment,’ Andrea Dona, Vodafone UK’s head of networks said.
According to Huawei, it employs about 1,600 people in the UK says it is one of the largest investments in Britain from China.
It doesn’t have publicly traded shares and it doesn’t provide any kind of regional breakdown of its revenue. However, it said that despite the US sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic it achieved a 13% rise in sales for the first half of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, totalling 454 billion yuan or £51.3 billion.
Huawei is also expecting similar decisions to be made by Germany later this year.
Meng Wanzhou, the company’s chief financial officer and daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, is currently under house arrest in Canada, in an extradition trial that could result in her being sent to the US to face charges that include bank fraud and a violation of trade sanctions.
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