The government have launched a consultation with telecoms firms on controlling the use of Huawei in the UK following the announcement this week that it had delayed the removal by six months due to Covid.
Ministers had originally planned to cut the share of Huawei equipment to 35 per cent of the full fibre and 5G by January next year, following concerns that it could be used by China for espionage.
However, on Friday, it was revealed that this was being pushed back to July 31 2023, “due to the difficulties providers have faced during the pandemic”.
Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative party leader and head of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, warned that “lengthening the time that allows the Government to get rid of Huawei, even in interim measures, increases the threat to the United Kingdom”.
UK telecoms providers have already begun to the removal Huawei from 5G networks after the government’s original announcement in July 2020.
As the next step in this process, the government is now required by the new Telecommunications (Security) Act to consult with industry on the proposed measures which would bring these controls on Huawei onto a legal footing.
In November, the Act became law – giving the government the legal mechanism to restrict the use of high risk vendor equipment in public networks where deemed “necessary and proportionate” in the interests of national security.
The consultation will last for four weeks and is only open to public communications providers which would receive the direction, and Huawei, as the proposed designated vendor.
The direction, subject to the consultation, legally requires telecoms operators to remove all Huawei equipment from 5G networks by the end of 2027, as well as remove all Huawei equipment from the core of telecoms networks by 28 January 2023.
Digital Secretary Nadine Dorries said: “The government is committed to ensuring the security and resilience of our phone and internet networks. Last year we brought in new laws to protect UK infrastructure from high-risk vendors and issue tough sanctions on providers which fall short of our high security standards. This consultation marks the next step in removing the risks posed by Huawei.”
The government update said it did not expect that the removal would impact the roll out of faster broadband and stated that the telecoms industry remained committed to the government’s target of bringing gigabit broadband to at least 85 per cent of the UK by 2025.
A Huawei spokesperson told City A.M: “We note the government’s consultation and will continue to support our UK customers with our network equipment, which is recognised as being among the most secure and trusted in the world.
“Political pressures have already forced the Government to exclude Huawei from 5G, delaying its rollout by several years. These same pressures will jeopardise the rollout of fibre broadband, unnecessarily pushing up costs for businesses and families.
“The country has the right to expect decisions to be made based on facts rather than unfounded security concerns.”