What does Huawei decision mean for UK’s 5G networks?

The Government has confirmed Huawei equipment is to be stripped out of the UK’s 5G infrastructure by 2027.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said new US sanctions on the Chinese firm had raised concerns over Huawei’s ability to be a secure part of the UK’s digital infrastructure.

Here is a look at the key issues around the UK’s decision and the debate around Huawei.

– So what decision has the UK made?

Mr Dowden said Huawei must be completely removed from the UK’s 5G networks by the end of 2027.

Ahead of this, there will be a total ban introduced on the purchase of any new 5G from Huawei after December 31 this year.

Telecoms firms will also be ordered to shift away from the purchase of Huawei’s equipment for full-fibre broadband networks over a period lasting up to two years.

The decision is a U-turn on the Government’s announcement in January that it would allow Huawei in non-essential parts of the network, capped at 35% of the equipment used.

It comes after months of debate around the alleged security risks around using Huawei kit.

– What is Huawei and why is it controversial?

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, alongside its large-scale telecoms network equipment business.

However, Huawei has been criticised 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.

Huawei 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.

– Why has the Government changed its mind now?

Mr Dowden said the UK’s decision had been made in response to the new US sanctions, which he said had removed Huawei’s access to products which had been based on US semiconductor technology.

In May, the US said it was expanding its existing sanctions on Huawei, which would now ban the company from using any technology or software made by American firms.

In a National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) blog post published alongside the Government’s decision, NCSC technical director Ian Levy said: “It seems that Huawei’s long term ability to build products using state-of-the-art technology has been severely affected.”

Although Huawei says it has stockpiled chips, the NCSC believes such uncertainty means the company is “likely to suffer more security and reliability problems because of the massive engineering challenge ahead of them”.

The agency estimates that Huawei’s supply will be impacted within the next 3-12 months.

– So how will this affect me?

The US sanctions and subsequent UK move does not directly affect your existing Huawei devices such as smartphones, laptops and tablets.

But as seen with more recent Huawei releases, such as the P40 handset, restrictions on dealings with US firms means it can no longer provide the full Android experience from Google on future devices, meaning core apps such as YouTube and the Google Play Store cannot be provided.

– What about an impact on the rollout of 5G?

Yes, Mr Dowden said the move could delay the rollout of 5G across the UK by two to three years.

This is because network providers would need to find alternatives, as well as start stripping Huawei equipment out of the infrastructure while trying to keep services running without interruption.

– What has Huawei said in response?

Huawei UK spokesman Ed Brewster said the decision was “disappointing” and “bad news for anyone in the UK with a mobile phone”.

He said it threatened to move the UK into the “digital slow lane” and would “deepen the digital divide”.

The company has urged the UK to reconsider the decision and Mr Brewster added: “Regrettably our future in the UK has become politicised, this is about US trade policy and not security.

“We will conduct a detailed review of what today’s announcement means for our business here and will work with the UK Government to explain how we can continue to contribute to a better connected Britain.”

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