Wednesday 10 June 2020 8:06 am

Vodafone lashes out over UK’s Huawei doubts

Vodafone has warned that the UK’s desire to be a global leader in 5G technology will be crippled if it decides to block Huawei from the country’s telecoms infrastructure.

“The UK’s leadership in 5G will be lost if mobile operators are forced to spend time and money replacing existing equipment,” said Scott Petty, Vodafone UK’s chief technology officer. 

Boris Johnson is facing increasing pressure from both sides of the Atlantic to bin his deal allowing Huawei to build 35 per cent of the UK’s 5G network, even though technology from the Chinese firm is crucial to Johnson’s promise to deliver gigabit broadband to the whole country by 2025.

Read more: Major mobile networks suffer UK-wide outages

A group of Conservative MPs have joined US President Donald Trump in warning the Prime Minister that mobile chips made by the Chinese firm could be used by Beijing for spying. Huawei has repeatedly denied the allegations, and this week wrote an open letter to the British public affirming its support of the country.

Tory MP Bob Seely told City AM that Huawei’s claims to be a private company, separate from the Chinese state were “not credible”, and that “parts of the british government have been supine” in allowing itself to develop a relationship with the vendor.

A full ban on Huawei equipment could require Britain’s telecoms firms, including Vodafone, to rip out and replace billions of pounds worth of existing equipment. 

“We are not tied to one supplier, but it is important to understand the extent of what is at stake here,” said Petty. He added that Vodafone is working with Ericsson and testing equipment from new suppliers as Johnson faces increasing pressure to abandon the deal. 

BT, which owns the EE network, has said it would cost the company £500m to comply with the government’s 35 per cent cap on Huawei equipment.

In February, Vodafone was forced to announce it would strip Huawei systems out of its core European network at a cost of €200m (£178m) after new EU guidelines were introduced to limit the use of the Chinese group’s equipment.

It comes as the National Cyber Security Centre — a branch of GCHQ — last week launched an emergency review on the back of fresh US sanctions aimed at the Chinese vendor.

Read more: Tory MPs blast Huawei over British media blitz

Relations between the US and China have continued to sour over Beijing’s response to coronavirus, which Trump has repeatedly referred to as the “Chinese virus”. 

In May, Johnson launched a review into the country’s supply chains called Project Defend, in an attempt to reduce Britain’s broader reliance on China for critical products.

Seely said there has been a recent “sea change in how international countries are viewing China”, and that the UK should put national security concerns ahead of pressure from telecoms firms who stand to profit from the Huawei deal.