Dowden said the NCSC now believes that the move has created uncertainly around the Huawei supply chain, and that the UK can no longer be confident it would be able to guarantee the security of future Huawei 5G equipment. The UK governement had announced in January 2020 that Huawei technology would be barred from the core of UK 5G networks but still available in the radio access network (RAN).
To that end, UK government is making it illegal for UK telcos to purchase Huawei 5G network equipment from the end of this year and is to commit to a timetable for the removal of Huawei equipment from the national 5G network by 2027. UK operators Three UK, BT/EE and Vodafone currently use Huawei technology in their 5G networks.
Assessing the ramifications of the decision, BT said that it currently estimates that full compliance with the revised proposals would require additional activity, both in removing and replacing Huawei equipment from BT’s existing mobile network, and in excluding Huawei from the 5G network that BT continues to build. Yet it added that now it had clarity on the timing, it is confident that in order to comply with the previous proposal by the NCSC, the extra costs can be absorbed within an initial estimated implementation made on 30 January 2020 of £500 million.
The operator said that it would continue to work with relevant authorities as they consult on the future procurement strategy for fixed networks. “The security of our networks is an absolute priority for BT. Clearly this decision has logistical and cost implications for communications providers in the UK market – however, we believe the timescales outlined will allow us to make these changes without impacting on the coverage or resilience of our existing networks,” said BT plc chief executive Philip Jansen. “It will also allow us to continue to rollout our 5G and full fibre networks without a significant impact on the timescales we’ve previously announced. Whilst we have provided our initial view on the estimated impact today, we will continue to evaluate the details of this decision thoroughly."
5G is seen as particularly crucial to the video industry. In February 2020, Telefónica-owned UK comms operator O2 released research showing the transformative impact 5G connectivity could have on the UK’s live entertainment industry predicting that 5G could boost the sector by as much as £2.3 billion over the next 10 years. It noted that it could rejuvenate live experiences with the likes of technology such as virtual and augmented reality, both of which will benefit from faster connectivity. in June 2020, O2 broadened the reach of its growing 5G network to 60 towns and cities in the UK adding the likes of Aberdeen, Brighton and Oxford to the locations covered.
No decision has been made regarding the use or removal of Huawei 3G and 4G technology from the UK’s communications infrastructure but in his statement Dowden added that the government would start a consultation reading Huawei’s place in the gigabit broadband fixed infrastructure that has been growing apace since the beginning of 2020.