Removing Huawei by 2023 would cause data 'blackouts', MPs told

Guardian Technology 09 Jul 2020 04:25

The UK would face mobile phone “blackouts” if networks were required to remove all Huawei equipment by 2023, a BT executive has told MPs.

Speaking to the Commons science and technology committee, Howard Watson, BT’s chief technology and information officer, said the proposed three-year timeframe for the removal of the Chinese firm from Britain’s mobile phone infrastructure was borderline unachievable.

“To get to zero in a three-year period would literally mean blackouts for customers on 4G and 2G, as well as 5G, throughout the country,” Watson said, citing the logistical difficulty of physically working on that many masts in a short timeframe.

Vodafone UK’s head of networks, Andrea Donà, corroborated Watson’s warning, saying the necessary works would create signal blackspots, “sometimes for a couple of days, depending on how big or how intrusive the work carried out is”.

Huawei has come under deep scrutiny for its links to the Chinese state, although the company has always said it is a fully independent employee-owned organisation.

However, Boris Johnson is now thought to be preparing to cave in to Conservative backbench rebels opposed to the presence of Huawei in 5G networks and drawing up plans to reduce the Chinese company’s involvement to zero by 2023.

As well as the blackouts caused by the work of switching to new suppliers, the change would be extremely expensive. But BT and Vodafone appear to have given up hope of winning in the long term, with both arguing in the Commons only for a slow switchover, a change from their position at the beginning of the year.

Clark then asked: “So what is your view of the new security law in Hong Kong?” Thompson declined to answer.

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HuaweiBTCommons science and technology committeeHoward WatsonUK
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