UK to ban Huawei from 5G networks 'within weeks'

Huawei shop

Prime minister Boris Johnson is soon expected to introduce a ban on telecoms firms using Huawei equipment in Britain’s 5G networks, before accelerating plans to remove equipment from existing networks.

The GCHQ's National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has found that US sanctions will have a “severe” effect on Huawei’s supply chain, meaning the Chinese company may have to use "untrusted" technology, according to the Sunday Telegraph.

Officials, as a result, are preparing measures to stop installing new Huawei equipment in the UK’s 5G networks within six months, as well as to speed up plans to remove Huawei-manufactured technology that’s already in place by 2029.

This would be a significant gear change from the NCSC recommendations made in January, which suggested the government should allow telecoms companies to use Huawei on the peripheries of their networks.

Under the initial recommendations, Huawei was restricted to supplying 35% of the hardware that connects devices and equipment to mobile phone masts.

Action by the US against the likes of Huawei has escalated in recent weeks, with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last week officially designating ZTE and Huawei as national security threats. US telecoms firms, as a result, can’t use a multi-billion-dollar pool of government subsidies from which to purchase networking equipment from either company.

Actions such as this spurred the NCSC to re-examine Huawei’s role in the UK’s 5G networks in May this year, despite previous rulings on the matter. The question as to whether using Huawei equipment would pose a security risk was, for all intents and purposes, settled in January. However, the effects of US trade restrictions on Huawei’s supply chain may have changed matters, forcing the NCSC to look again.

The report, which has been examined by Oliver Dowden, the secretary of state for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, will be presented to the prime minister this week, with a formal announcement expected before 22 July.

The expected course of action stands in contrast with decisions made by other nations facing comparable dilemmas. France, for example, has decided against completely banning the use of equipment from the Chinese networking giant.

After the US government urged its allies to exclude Huawei equipment from 5G networks, the head of France’s ANSSI cyber security agency said it would push telecoms firms not to switch over to Huawei, according to Reuters.

“We are working closely with our customers to find ways of managing the proposed US restrictions so the UK can maintain its current lead in 5G,” Huawei vice president Victor Zhang said. “As ever, we remain open to discussions with the Government.

“We believe it is too early to determine the impact of the proposed restrictions, which are not about security, but about market position. All our world-leading products and solutions use technology and components over which the UK government has strict oversight. Our technology is already extensively used in 5G networks across the country and has helped connect people throughout lockdown.”

Keumars Afifi-Sabet
Features Editor

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.