Huawei 5G kit banned from sale the UK from next year, must be swapped out by 2028

The UK government has unveiled its revised position regarding Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s 5G networks, banning the vendor from the UK market at the end of this year.

“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,” said Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden. “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 means Huawei will cease to be an active participant in the UK telecoms industry from next year, presumably limited to fulfilling existing maintenance commitments. Giving UK operators a further seven years to swap out all their existing Huawei kit is presumably an attempt to meet the likes of Vodafone and BT, who have recently been moaning about what a massive hassle it will all be, in the middle.

“This disappointing decision is bad news for anyone in the UK with a mobile phone,” said Ed Brewster, a spokesperson for Huawei UK. “It threatens to move Britain into the digital slow lane, push up bills and deepen the digital divide. Instead of ‘levelling up’ the government is levelling down and we urge them to reconsider. We remain confident that the new US restrictions would not have affected the resilience or security of the products we supply to the UK.

“Regrettably our future in the UK has become politicized, this is about US trade policy and not security. Over the past 20 years, Huawei has focused on building a better connected UK. As a responsible business, we will continue to support our customers as we have always done. 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.”

“Today’s decision removes the uncertainty that was slowing down investment decisions around the deployment of 5G in the UK,” said Arun Bansal, President of Europe and Latin America at Ericsson. “It is now time for the industry to come together and start delivering on the promise of creating a world-leading 5G network for the people, businesses and economy of the UK. Ericsson has the technology, experience and supply chain capacity to help accomplish this, and we stand ready to work with the UK operators to meet their timetable, with no disruption to customers.”

The decision comes immediately after UK PM Johnson chaired a meeting of the National Cyber Security Centre, which has been mulling the matter over. You can see its findings here, which are an amendment to the guidance it offered at the start of the year. The U-turn seems to be entirely down to the US announcement in May restricting Huawei’s access to the semiconductor industry. What seems more likely, however, is that the UK bowed to US diplomatic pressure and is seeking to disguise that fact.