Network chiefs from Vodafone UK and BT Group warned authorities must offer realistic timescales if they enforce a complete ban on Huawei equipment in the country, with at least five-to-seven years needed to avoid network disruption.

At a UK Parliament Science and Technology Committee session, Vodafone UK head of networks Andrea Dona and BT Group CTIO Howard Watson warned a Huawei removal deadline of 2023, rumoured to be under consideration, was unrealistic and would be disruptive to consumers and businesses.

The UK’s stance on Huawei is currently being questioned in the wake of US pressure and a report on the impact of sanctions being placed on the company’s supply chain.

Dona said a rule limiting the role of Huawei, and others, released in April “strikes the right balance between securing the telecoms networks and giving us stability to keep investing in the network,” while the imposition of tighter restrictions would have cost implications and slow 5G rollout.

Vodafone estimates it would take “single figure billions” to strip out Huawei RAN equipment totally, and would take a minimum of five years. Dona added meeting a deadline of 2023 could cause consumer outages for up to two days at a time.

Watson agreed: “It is logistically impossible to get to zero in a three year period. That would literally mean blackouts for customers.”

He added meeting current policies were challenging but “ultimately manageable” with minimal disruption, though acknowledged the importance of the ongoing government review.

Earlier in the session, Huawei VP Victor Zhang reiterated comments released to the media in advance, stating US restrictions were not causing any short-term impact on its ability to supply equipment for the UK’s fibre and 5G networks.

He added it was still working with partners to assess the long-term impact, a process he noted would take months.

During the hearing Samsung EVP and head of global sales for networks Woojune Kim also appeared, to discuss its position in the UK and offer examples of network deployments elsewhere in the world.

When asked if Samsung would be in a position to enter the UK network market outside of kit already supplied to 3 UK, Kim cited a lack of legacy 2G and 3G technology supplied by his company as an issue.

However, he added new RAN architectures such as open RAN and other ways to allow operators to mix vendors provided a potential opportunity.

Kim noted although Samsung was always open to commercial opportunity, “I know there is a lot of discussion on political winds, but political winds can shift and things can happen, so we do not base our strategy on those aspects”.