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UK will remove all Huawei equipment from 5G networks by 2027

Huawei CES 2019 booth Logo

  • The UK has ordered carriers to remove all Huawei 5G hardware from their networks by 2027.
  • Providers are also banned from adding new equipment as of January 1, 2021.
  • The policy is a reversal of a more permissive policy from October 2019.

The UK is reversing a policy that allowed Huawei equipment in non-core parts of its 5G networks.

Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden has ordered the removal of all Huawei 5G hardware from UK networks by 2027, and will ban the purchase of any new 5G equipment from the Chinese firm as of January 1, 2021.

Existing limits on Huawei for “sensitive and critical” network areas will remain in place. Fiber broadband networks aren’t subject to the same bans, but the UK is asking companies to avoid buying Huawei products and expects a transition to last two years.

The decision follows a National Security Council meeting that determined US trade restrictions on chips, implemented in May, would make it “impossible” to guarantee the security of Huawei gear going forward. The company would need a “major reconfiguration” of its supply system to continue getting the technology it needs, according to the government. There also weren’t any alternatives that provided officials with “sufficient confidence.”

The UK’s move worsens the ongoing drama for Huawei.

The UK vowed to enshrine the new measures in law by proposing a telecom security bill as soon as possible. The measure wouldn’t single out Huawei, however, and would instead cover all “high risk” equipment makers. Legislators would also ask carriers to obey stricter security requirements.

The new approach contrasts sharply with the UK’s stance in January, when officials decided that allegedly risky companies like Huawei could be allowed in non-sensitive parts of 5G networks, albeit with a 35% market share cap by 2023. The government warned at the time that this situation could change if Huawei faced more trade bans, however.

Kirin 990 with Huawei logo

Credit: Kris Carlon / Android Authority

In a statement to Android Authority, Huawei said the decision was “bad news for anyone in the UK with a mobile phone.” It risked putting the UK in the “digital slow lane,” hiking phone bills and worsening gaps in access. The company added that its future in the UK had been “politicized” and was the product of US policy, not real security issues. It promised to examine the decision and determine what to do next. You can read the full statement below.

Huawei has previously denied allegations that it enables Chinese surveillance. The US hasn’t publicly discussed technical details of its allegations. American officials believed Huawei had secret access to carriers’ networks, according to a Wall Street Journal report, but Huawei said they were “strictly regulated” law enforcement backdoors that would need carriers’ approval.

Whatever the response, the UK’s move worsens the ongoing drama for Huawei. The trade bans clearly cost Huawei business with the US and limited its involvement with American allies. Now, it won’t have much of a footprint in the UK beyond phones. The company is still growing, but continued success will be that much harder when it can’t sell networking tech to a major market.

This disappointing decision is bad news for anyone in the UK with a mobile phone. It threatens to move Britain into the digital slow lane, push up bills and deepen the digital divide. Instead of ‘levelling up’ the government is levelling down and we urge them to reconsider. We remain confident that the new US restrictions would not have affected the resilience or security of the products we supply to the UK.

Regrettably our future in the UK has become politicized, this is about US trade policy and not security. Over the past 20 years, Huawei has focused on building a better connected UK. As a responsible business, we will continue to support our customers as we have always done.

We will conduct a detailed review of what today’s announcement means for our business here and will work with the UK government to explain how we can continue to contribute to a better connected Britain.