The UK looks to Japan and South Korea for 5G equipment

The UK has set its sights on Japanese networking giant NEC and South Korea's Samsung to help support the UK's 5G development should Huawei be blocked from its networking infrastructure.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has already held discussions with electronics firm NEC last month in order to potentially diversify the equipment providers at disposal, according to Bloomberg, which spoke with an unnamed official. Samsung is also being considered as a possible option.

Huawei has been a part of Britain’s networking infrastructure for years and was even given the go-head to be involved in the peripheries of Britain’s 5G networks in January, meaning it can play a “limited” role and supply up to 35% of the equipment.

Relations with China are souring, however, and towards the end of last month, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) was tasked with re-examining Huawei’s future role in the UK’s 5G networks. As part of the review, the UK is hoping to phase out Huawei's involvement by 2023, fuelled by the extension of trade restrictions on China by the US.

“The security and resilience of our networks is of paramount importance,” a government spokesperson told IT Pro last week. “Following the US announcement of additional sanctions against Huawei, the NCSC is looking carefully at any impact they could have to the UK’s networks.”

DCMS officials have spoken with NEC with a view to bringing the company into the 5G market through a trial programme called “5G Create”. The department is already leading the work as part of a £200 million trials programme to develop the next-gen networking infrastructure across the country. Samsung will also be invited for talks with a view to involving the company in similar trials.

Moves to ban or limit Huawei’s involvement in Britain’s networking infrastructure is widely seen as being tantamount to delaying the rollout of 5G across the country. Research published in April last year suggested a full ban would result in an 18-24 month delay and cost the economy between £4.5 billion and £6.8 billion in lost earnings as a result.

Although Vodafone has previously agreed with this assessment, warning against a UK blanket ban in March 2019, the mobile network operator’s CEO Nick Read said in February this year the company will remove elements of Huawei’s equipment from its networks. This is in order to comply with the 35% cap imposed by the prime minister Boris Johnson.

Keumars Afifi-Sabet

Keumars Afifi-Sabet is a writer and editor that specialises in public sector, cyber security, and cloud computing. He first joined ITPro as a staff writer in April 2018 and eventually became its Features Editor. Although a regular contributor to other tech sites in the past, these days you will find Keumars on LiveScience, where he runs its Technology section.