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Huawei to be removed from UK 5G networks by 2027 due to security fears

05 August 2020

HUAWEI WILL be completely removed from the UK’s 5G networks by the end of 2027, the Government has announced, following new advice produced by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) on the impact of US sanctions against the telecommunications vendor. Ahead of this there will be a total ban on the purchase of any new 5G kit after 31 December 2020.

The decision was taken in a meeting of the National Security Council chaired by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in response to new US sanctions. These were imposed on Huawei in May after the UK’s initial decision on high risk vendors. The sanctions are the first of their kind removing the firm’s access to products which have been built based on US semiconductor technology.

Technical experts at the NCSC reviewed the consequences of the sanctions and concluded that Huawei will need to complete a major reconfiguration of its supply chain as it will no longer have access to the technology on which it currently relies. There are no alternatives in which the UK Government has sufficient confidence. The sense is that the new restrictions make it impossible to continue to guarantee the security of Huawei equipment in the future.

As a result, Conservative Government ministers agreed that UK operators should stop the purchase of Huawei equipment affected by the sanctions. There will be a ban on the purchase of new Huawei kit for 5G from next year and it will be completely removed from 5G networks by the end of 2027.

The decision takes into account the UK’s specific national circumstances and how the risks from these sanctions are manifested on home shores. The existing restrictions on Huawei in sensitive and critical parts of the network remain in place.

The US action also affects Huawei products used in the UK’s full fibre broadband networks. However, the UK has managed Huawei’s presence in the UK’s fixed access networks since 2005. A situation where broadband operators are reliant on a single supplier for their equipment must be avoided. As a result, following security advice from world-leading experts, the Government is advising full fibre operators to transition away from purchasing new Huawei equipment. A technical consultation will determine the transition timetable, but the Government expects this period to last no longer than two years.

Striking the right balance

According to the Government, this approach strikes the right balance by recognising full fibre’s established presence and supporting the connections upon which the public relies, while at the same time fully addressing the security concerns focused on by experts.

Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “5G will be transformative for our country, but only if we have confidence in the security and resilience of the infrastructure upon which it’s built. Following US sanctions against Huawei and updated technical advice from our cyber experts, the Government has decided it’s necessary to ban Huawei from our 5G networks.”

Dowden continued: “No new kit is to be added from January 2021, while UK 5G networks will be Huawei free by the end of 2027. This decisive move provides the industry with the clarity and certainty it needs to carry on with delivering 5G across the UK. By the time of the next General Election we will have implemented in law an irreversible path for the complete removal of Huawei equipment from our 5G networks.”

The Government will now seek to legislate at the earliest possible opportunity with a new Telecoms Security Bill to put in place the powers necessary to implement this tough new telecoms security framework. The Bill will afford the Government the national security powers necessary to impose these new controls on high risk vendors and create extensive security duties on network operators to drive up standards.

The Government is quick to point out that the policy in relation to high risk vendors has not been designed around one company, one country or one threat. Rather, it’s intended to be an enduring and flexible policy that will enable the Government to manage the risks posed to the network both now and into the future.

Sensible move

Commenting on the news, Joe Hancock (head of cyber at Mishcon de Reya) told Security Matters: “The Government has been sensible in giving the telecommunications sector until 2027 to remove Huawei equipment. Huawei equipment is widespread throughout UK telecoms networks and it will take considerable effort to remove. This allows service providers to replace Huawei piece by piece and removes the need for an immediate change. A different US administration could lead to this change being reversed.”

Hancock added: “The sanctions placed on Huawei will impact how products are designed and where their internal components come from, in turn potentially leading to security and reliability issues as these changes are made. Any widespread technology design changes are likely to create security vulnerabilities, even if well tested. If this ban were not in place, the UK would need to assure itself that these changes do not undermine national security, which is both an expensive and time-consuming exercise.”