Britain today backtracked on plans to give Chinese telecommunications company Huawei a role in the UK’s new high-speed mobile phone network amid security concerns fuelled by rising tensions between Beijing and Western powers.
Britain said it decided to prohibit Huawei from working on the so-called 5G system after US sanctions made it impossible to ensure the security of equipment made by the Chinese company.
The US had also threatened to sever an intelligence-sharing arrangement with Britain because of concerns that Huawei’s involvement could allow the Chinese government to infiltrate UK networks.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden told Parliament the decision would delay the rollout of 5G technology and increase costs by up to 2 billion pounds, but that it had to be done.
“This has not been an easy decision, but it is the right one,” he said.
The decision forces British telecoms operators to stop buying 5G equipment from Huawei by the end of this year but gives them until 2027 to remove Huawei gear that has already been used in the network, which is currently under construction.
Fifth generation, or 5G, networks are expected to usher in a new wave of wireless innovation, with super-fast speeds and low signal delay that will help the development of self-driving cars, remote surgery and factory robots.
Critically for telecoms operators, the government opted not to order them to rip out equipment manufactured by Huawei and used in earlier systems, such as the existing 4G network. Such a decision might have caused havoc in UK telecoms systems.
Still, the decision marks a major retreat for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who in January sought to balance economic and security pressures by agreeing to give Huawei a limited role in the 5G network.
Under the earlier ruling, Huawei would have been limited to providing 35% of equipment such as radios and antennas, with the company barred from supplying core components of the system.