U.K. Prepares to Start Huawei 5G Phase-Out as Soon as This Year

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is preparing to begin phasing out the use of Huawei Technologies Co. equipment in the U.K.’s 5G telecoms network as soon as this year, a person familiar with the matter said.

A report from the National Cybersecurity Centre concluded that new U.S. sanctions mean Huawei will have to use untrusted technology, making security risks impossible to control, according to the person, who confirmed a story in the Sunday Telegraph.

Officials are drawing plans to speed up the removal of existing Huawei kit, although an exact timetable is yet to be set, said the person, who asked not to be named discussing unpublished proposals. No date has yet been set for a cross-government discussion at the National Security Council.

If taken, the decision would mark a U-turn by Johnson’s administration, which in January cleared Huawei to participate in the U.K.’s 5G build-out subject to strict conditions, including a 35% cap on its involvement and a bar on its gear being used in parts of the network deemed sensitive. Ministers argued the U.K. needed diversity in its suppliers, and that any risks involved in using Chinese equipment could be mitigated.

Trump Opposition

But the decision was opposed by Donald Trump’s U.S. administration, which wanted Johnson to impose an outright ban on the Shenzhen-based tech giant, citing concerns that its gear could be vulnerable to infiltration by Chinese spies. The U.K. prime minister also faced growing hostility from opponents within his own Conservative Party, who believed they had the numbers to block any legislation on the matter.

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Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told Parliament’s Defence Committee on June 30 that the U.S. sanctions on Huawei — which put its microchip supply in jeopardy — are “designed to make 5G designed by Huawei very hard to do.” Sitting alongside him, Culture Secretary Dowden said the sanctions were “likely to have an impact on the viability of Huawei as a provider for the 5G network.”

He also said that Huawei won’t be part of the U.K.’s 5G telecoms networks in the long term, adding that he welcomes approaches from alternative vendors including South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co. and Japan’s NEC Corp.

Formal Advice

Dowden may provide Johnson with formal advice as soon as this week on Huawei, according to the person familiar.

“We are considering the impact the U.S.’s additional sanctions against Huawei could have on U.K. networks,” the British government said on Sunday in an emailed statement. “This is an ongoing process and we will update further in due course.”

For its part, Huawei said in a statement on Sunday that it’s “open to discussions” with the government.

“We are working closely with our customers to find ways of managing the proposed U.S. restrictions so the U.K. can maintain its current lead in 5G,” Huawei Vice-President Victor Zhang said. “We believe it is too early to determine the impact of the proposed restrictions, which are not about security, but about market position.”

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