'UK faces mobile blackouts if Huawei 5G ban imposed by 2023'

BBC Technology 09 Jul 2020 12:40
By Leo Kelion Technology desk editor
Huawei 5GImage copyright Getty Images

BT and Vodafone have said their UK customers would face mobile phone signal blackouts if they are given three years or less to strip Huawei's equipment out of their 5G networks.

Executives from the network providers told MPs that they wanted at least five years, and ideally seven, if such an order were made.

The government is expected to announce new curbs on the use of the Chinese firm's kit within the next two weeks.

Huawei has urged it to take more time.

"There isn't a burning bridge," said Huawei's UK vice president Jeremy Thompson, adding that it was too soon to determine what impact new US sanctions would have.

The company also denied claims it would ever act against its clients' interests, even if told to do so by the Chinese government.

Image copyright Parliament TV

'No signal'

Since then, however, Washington has announced fresh sanctions designed to prevent the company from having its own chips manufactured.

GCHQ's National Cyber Security Centre is believed to have told the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport that this means it can no longer assure the security of Huawei's products.

Some Tory backbenchers are urging a deadline to be set before the 2024 general election - and there has been speculation that it could be as soon as 2023.

He explained the logistics involved in bringing in cranes and shutting off streets to replace masts, base stations and other Huawei equipment meant that the only way to meet the timespan would be to switch over multiple sites in an area at the same time.

Vodafone made a similar case - it uses Huawei's kit in its 2G, 3G. 4G and 5G networks.

"I would say a five-year transition time would be the minimum,"

'Few more weeks'

Image copyright Getty Images

The company has built up stockpiles of its chips, and believes it could keep providing equipment based on them for some time to come.

"And in terms of who the alternative [chip] suppliers are, they're not just Chinese. There are European companies who are also in this space.

A spokeswoman for DCMS said she could not reveal whether the department had already handed over its recommendations to the prime minister.

Last year they seemed determined to battle against any plan to exclude Huawei from the UK's 5G networks.

Indeed, BT accepts that the threatened US sanctions could mean that within a couple of years, it won't be able to get hold of reliable Huawei equipment.

They understand how the political mood has changed, but will be warning ministers that disrupting mobile reception, or abandoning the target to get gigabit broadband to everyone by 2025, would also be bad politics.

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HuaweiBTVodafoneJeremy Thompson
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