British Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered Huawei equipment to be purged completely from Britain’s 5G network by 2027, risking the ire of China by signalling that the world’s biggest telecommunications equipment maker is no longer welcome in the West.
The seven-year lag will please telecoms operators such as BT, Vodafone and Three, which feared they would be forced to spend billions of pounds to rip out Huawei equipment much faster. But it will delay the rollout of 5G in the country.
The United States has pushed Johnson to reverse his January decision to grant Huawei a limited role in 5G, while London has been dismayed by a crackdown in Hong Kong and the perception China did not tell the whole truth over the novel coronavirus.
Britain’s National Security Council (NSC), chaired by Johnson, decided on Tuesday to ban the purchase of 5G components from the end of this year and to order the removal of all existing Huawei gear from the 5G network by 2027.
The cyber arm of Britain’s GCHQ eavesdropping agency, the National Cyber Security Centre, told ministers it could no longer guarantee the stable supply of Huawei gear after the United States imposed new sanctions on chip technology.
Telecoms will also be told to stop using Huawei in fixed-line fibre broadband within the next two years.
Not an ‘easy decision’
“This has not been an easy decision, but it is the right one for the U.K. telecoms networks, for our national security and our economy, both now and indeed in the long run,” Oliver Dowden, the U.K.’s digital, culture, media and sport secretary, told Parliament.
“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.”
WATCH | Minister explains Britain’s decision on Huawei:
A spokesperson for Huawei called the decision “disappointing” and “bad news for anyone in the U.K. with a mobile phone.” The company urged the British government to reconsider.
“We remain confident that the new U.S. restrictions would not have affected the resilience or security of the products we supply to the U.K.,” the spokesperson said.
Dowden said that Canada had a similar type of analysis to that done by Britain. “Each country is looking at how best to protect its telecoms networks but also crucially how they develop their own domestic alternatives,” he said.
“The U.S. and Australia have already taken decisions in this respect. I think the Canadians have a similar sort of analysis to us and are yet to take a decision, and New Zealand has a slightly different process.”
WATCH | Canada should also ban Huawei from 5G network, security expert says:
U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, the chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, said Britain’s decision was the right one. “I have long been concerned about the national security risks posed by allowing high-risk vendors such as Huawei, and with them, the Chinese Communist Party, into any of our allies’ telecommunications infrastructure,” Risch, a Republican from Idaho, said in a statement.
“As China continues to make clear its malign international intentions, I am heartened by the determination of Western allies to face these new challenges in a clear-eyed, unified manner.”
In what some have compared to the Cold War antagonism with the Soviet Union, the United States is worried that 5G dominance is a milestone toward Chinese technological supremacy that could define the geopolitics of the 21st century.
With faster data and increased capacity, 5G will become the nervous system of the future economy — carrying data on everything from global financial flows to critical infrastructure such as energy, defence and transport.
Steadily growing concerns over Huawei
After Australia first recognized the destructive power of 5G if hijacked by a hostile state, the West has become steadily more worried about Huawei.
White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien is meeting representatives of France, Britain, Germany and Italy in Paris this week to discuss security, including 5G.
U.K. telecoms firms already had to cap Huawei’s role in 5G at 35 per cent by 2023. Reducing it to zero over another two to four years is now being discussed, though going too fast could disrupt services and prove costly.
The West is trying to create a group of rivals to Huawei to build 5G networks. Other large-scale telecoms equipment suppliers are Sweden’s Ericsson and Finland’s Nokia.
Hanging up on Huawei, founded by a former People’s Liberation Army engineer in 1987, marks the end of what former British Prime Minister David Cameron cast as a “golden era” in ties, with Britain as Europe’s top destination for Chinese capital.
Cameron toasted the relationship over a beer with President Xi Jinping in an English pub, which was later bought by a Chinese firm.
Trump, though, has repeatedly asked London to ban Huawei, which Washington calls an agent of the Chinese Communist state — an argument that has support in Johnson’s Conservative Party.
Huawei denies it spies for China and has said the United States wants to frustrate its growth because no U.S. company could offer the same range of technology at a competitive price. China says banning one of its flagship global technology companies would have far-reaching ramifications.