BT and Vodafone have told an MPs committee they want at least five years to remove Huawei from 4G and 5G nets, or there will be blackouts.
The government is expected to announce new curbs on the use of the Chinese firm’s kit within the next two weeks. Huawei is urging them to take their time; “There isn’t a burning bridge,” said Huawei’s UK vice president Jeremy Thompson, adding that it was too soon to determine what impact new US sanctions would have.
The Science and Technology Committee hearing represents a last chance for companies to make their cases before government ahead of a decision being taken.
In January, the government put a cap on Huawei’s 5G market share, but decided security risks could be managed. Since then, however, Washington has announced fresh sanctions designed to prevent the company from having its own chips manufactured. Huawei now faces having to source other companies’ chips for use in its equipment. GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre is believed to have told the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport that this means it can no longer assure the security of Huawei’s products.
It now seems likely the government will opt for a ban of some sort, the question is when it will come into effect. Vodafone and BT – which both use Huawei’s products in their networks – say this would be hugely disruptive.
“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,” said Howard Watson, BT’s CTO. Vodafone made a similar case – it uses Huawei’s kit in its 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G networks.
Replacing Huawei’s 5G equipment will often involve simultaneously swapping out its 4G base stations and antennas