DCMS confirms ban on Huawei equipment for 5G networks

15 Jul 2020

The UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) has announced that equipment produced by China’s Huawei must be removed from the UK’s 5G networks by the end of 2027, following new advice produced by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) on the impact of US sanctions against the Chinese telecommunications vendor.

In a press release regarding the development, the DCMS noted that the decision had been taken in a meeting of the National Security Council yesterday (14 July) chaired by the Prime Minister. In the wake of new US sanctions imposed on Huawei in May, it was said that with the technical experts at the NCSC having reviewed the consequences of such measures, it had been concluded that the equipment maker would need to do a major reconfiguration of its supply chain. In light of this, it was argued that such a development makes it ‘impossible to continue to guarantee the security of Huawei equipment in the future’. As a result, the DCMS has confirmed that the existing restrictions on the vendor in sensitive and critical parts of the network remain in place, while it was also revealed that there will be a total ban on the purchase of any new 5G kit from Huawei from 31 December 2020.

Meanwhile, away from mobile broadband connectivity, the DCMS also said that, following security advice, it was advising full fibre operators to transition away from purchasing new Huawei equipment. A technical consultation will determine the transition timetable, but the agency expects this period to last no longer than two years and claims that this approach ‘strikes the right balance by recognising full fibre’s established presence and supporting the connections that the public relies on, while fully addressing the security concerns of our world leading experts’.

According to the UK’s Digital Secretary, Oliver Dowden, the state expects to have ‘implemented in law an irreversible path for the complete removal of Huawei equipment from … 5G networks’ by the time of the country’s next election. To that end, the government will reportedly now seek to legislate ‘at the earliest opportunity’ with a new Telecoms Security Bill to put in place the powers necessary to implement the new telecoms security framework.

Among the operators that will be impacted by the decision are BT – which owns mobile network operator EE – and Vodafone UK. Earlier this month the two companies suggested that their customers could experience blackouts in mobile signals should they be given less than three years to strip out existing Huawei kit from their respective 5G infrastructure. ‘To get to zero in a three-year period would literally mean blackouts for customers on 4G and 2G, as well as 5G, throughout the country,’ Howard Watson, BT’s chief technology and information officer, was cited by the BBC as saying. Similarly, Andrea Dona, Vodafone UK’s head of networks, warned: ‘[Customers] would lose their signal, sometimes for a couple of days, depending on how big or how intrusive the work to be carried out is.’