The UK is expected to begin removing Huawei technology from its 5G network this year over fears that US sanctions on the Chinese tech giant have weakened its security position.
A report from the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) – set to be handed down this week – advises that including Huawei technology in the 5G rollout would carry risks that could not be controlled, according to the Telegraph.
The move would be a reversal from the UK’s decision in January to allow Huawei technology into its developing 5G network so long as the vendor was excluded from certain critical networks.
This change in heart from the UK comes in response to US sanctions in May that banned Huawei and its suppliers from using US intellectual property to build its hardware.
The sanctions forced chip manufacturers using US equipment to seek a license before selling to Huawei.
In a column for the Financial Times over the weekend, former chief of UK intelligence agency MI6, John Sawyers, said the US sanctions fundamentally changed the security outlook of Huawei’s supply chains.
“Reliable non-Chinese suppliers to Huawei can no longer work with the company,” Sawyers said.
“UK intelligence services can therefore no longer provide the needed assurances that Chinese-made equipment is still safe to use in the UK’s telecoms network.
“There are now sound technical reasons for the UK to change January’s decision, which would have allowed Huawei to have an up to 35 per cent stake in the UK’s 5G market, and exclude the company instead.
“The security assessment is now different because the facts have changed.”
A Huawei spokesperson said the company was “the most scrutinised vendor in the world”.
“We firmly believe our unrivalled transparency in the UK means we can continue to be trusted to play a part in Britain’s gigabit upgrade,” the spokesperson said.
“It’s important to focus on facts and not to speculate at this time.”
That decision was made in the early phases of the 5G rollout.
For the UK, removing Huawei from its planned rollout could be an expensive decision.
Earlier this year, Vodafone began spending some $324 million to remove Huawei components from core aspects of its networks across Europe after the UK deemed the vendor to be high risk.
CTO of Vodafone UK, Scott Perry, warned last month that a total removal of Huawei technology will greatly slow down the rollout.
“The UK’s leadership in 5G will be lost if mobile operators are forced to spend time and money replacing existing equipment,” he said.
“Efforts should instead be focused on expanding 5G coverage, developing 5G capabilities for UK industry, and investing in the next stage of this important technology.”
5G has been a contentious issue for the UK, beyond concerns about cybersecurity.
In April, angry citizens began burning down phone towers as a reaction to completely unfounded conspiracy theories that 5G is harmful and was somehow involved in the spread of coronavirus.