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The end of the saga, or is it?

Is the British government’s decision to ban Huawei from the UK’s 5G network going to be its final word on the matter?

Earlier this month the UK government unveiled a significant u-turn when it announced that Huawei was to be stripped out of Britain’s 5G phone networks by 2027.

According to Oliver Dowden, the UK culture secretary, no new Huawei 5G kit will be bought after 31 December this year and the UK was now on an “irreversible path” to eliminating “high-risk vendors” by the time of the next general election in 2024.

The government had said that Huawei would be able to supply 35% of the UK’s 5G equipment now, due to new US sanctions forbidding the sale of US-produced components to Huawei, the Chinese company is going to have to source components from elsewhere. The uncertainty around this new supply chain has meant that the UK can no longer be confident it will be able to guarantee the security of future Huawei 5G equipment – hence its decision.

Dowden admitted that these changes would mean, “a cumulative delay to 5G roll out of two to three years and cost up to £2bn”, as well as putting pay to Boris Johnson’s manifesto commitment to supply superfast broadband to every home and business by 2025.

While both BT and Vodafone have warned about the costs of banning Huawei from the UK’s network, they may not be as significant as they would have us believe. Costs have not jumped, or investment fallen, in Denmark or Norway where operators have chosen to replace Huawei with Ericsson.

In truth, the decision has been determined by the geopolitical tensions between the US and China. President Trump has even taken credit for the decision while US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has praised the UK government’s decision.

But has this actually drawn a line under this saga?

According to various sources, the British government has privately told Huawei that while geopolitics had played a part in its decision, it appears to have given the company the impression that it was possible that the decision could be revisited in the future, especially if Trump is defeated in the upcoming US Presidential elections and Washington then eases back on its anti-China rhetoric.

Huawei executives have said that they are hopeful that the British government will rethink its decision, apparently encouraged by these back-channel contacts.

While China has certainly changed for the worst in the past few years in terms of human rights and its recent actions in Hong Kong have raised concerns, talk of our relationship with this economic giant being ‘irrevocably changed’ is a little wide of the mark.

China remains a key driver of economic growth, and while security should be our number one priority, any decision taken for geopolitical reasons and one that doesn’t consider the broader economic costs to the UK, is one that could end up being reversed.

Author
Neil Tyler

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