The UK government banned the use of Huawei 5G equipment, with operators given until 2027 to rip out existing kit, a process expected to delay rollout of the new network technology by between two and three years and cost up to £2 billion.
Under the new telecoms security bill, which must still pass through the UK parliament but is unlikely to face significant opposition, operators are unable to purchase new Huawei 5G equipment from the end of this year, with removal of existing kit mandated by 2027.
Its move reverses a policy unveiled in January which cleared operators to use Huawei in up to 35 per cent of their 5G RANs, but not core networks.
The original policy was then reviewed following the ramping of US supply chain sanctions.
Announcing the latest ruling in the House of Commons, UK Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden said it had “not taken these decisions lightly” noting “this will delay our rollout of 5G”.
“To go further and faster beyond the 2027 target would add significant and unnecessary costs and delays,” he added.
Dowden estimated the government’s policy would set 5G rollout back by up to three years at a cost of up to £2 billion.
BT and Vodafone warned last week it would take five to seven years to perform full removal without service disruption.
The government’s latest decision only impacts equipment used for 5G, though Dowden said the country also planned to conduct a technical consultation to assess equipment for fibre and older mobile technologies.
Following the announcement, a Huawei representative said its role in the UK had become politicised, with the decision “about US trade policy and not security”.
The company added: “It threatens to move Britain into the digital slow lane, push up bills and deepen the digital divide. Instead of levelling up the government is levelling down and we urge them to reconsider. We remain confident that the new US restrictions would not have affected the resilience or security of the products we supply to the UK.”
“We will conduct a detailed review of what today’s announcement means for our business here and will work with the UK government to explain how we can continue to contribute to a better-connected Britain.”
Rival Ericsson wasted little time in pitching itself as a viable alternative which could salvage original 5G timelines.
In a statement, Arun Bansal, president of its Europe and Latin America division, said the vendor “has the technology, experience and supply chain capacity” to help create a “world-leading 5G network for the people, businesses and economy of the UK”.
Ericsson is “ready to work with the UK operators to meet their timetable, with no disruption to customers”, he said, adding the government’s decision “removes the uncertainty that was slowing down investment decisions” around deploying 5G in the country.
The government’s about-turn comes after a fresh review by security authorities in light of further US sanctions on Huawei and following pressure from politicians in the UK and US, who waged a lengthy international campaign against the company.
Hours before the formal confirmation, Huawei announced its UK chairman John Browne had quit. In a statement, the company said his work had “proved vital in ensuring Huawei’s commitment to corporate governance in the UK” and had been “central to our commitment here dating back 20 years”.