New US restrictions render Chinese vendor’s supply chain insecure, officials find.
The U.K. will start phasing out Chinese telecom vendor Huawei from its networks from next year, the government announced on Tuesday — a move that brings Britain into closer alignment with the United States on security and relations with China.
According to a decision by the government’s National Security Council, British telecom operators will be barred from purchasing new Huawei equipment from January next year and will have to remove all Huawei equipment from their networks by 2027.
“We have been clear-eyed from the start that Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE were deemed high-risk,” Oliver Dowden, secretary of state for digital, told the House of Commons Tuesday.
The government’s decision affects new 5G networks, which will underpin connected transport systems, digital manufacturing and other new technologies.
“We have to have confidence in the security and resilience of the infrastructure on which [new technologies] are built,” said Dowden.
U.S. sanctions targeting Huawei’s supply chain changed the U.K.’s calculus.
The government is also finalizing a telecom security bill and will propose it to MPs “shortly,” Dowden said, adding that the bill will render the purchase of Huawei’s 5G kit “illegal.”
The National Security Council’s decision “will delay our rollout of 5G,” the digital minister said, adding the government estimates a delay of two-to-three years to 5G rollout plans, and additional costs of at least £2 billion.
Flip-flop following new US sanctions
The decision to exclude Huawei marks a hardening of the U.K.’s line after Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office announced in January that the company would be allowed to sell equipment for 5G networks, but only for peripheral, non-sensitive parts. At the time, cybersecurity officials said that the risk of having Huawei equipment in parts of the network was manageable.
However, U.S. sanctions targeting Huawei’s supply chain changed the calculus.
Having reviewed the impact of sanctions, the National Cyber Security Centre concluded it could not guarantee the security of Huawei equipment in the future.
At the heart of this assessment are concerns about the fact that Huawei has to overhaul its supply chain, and that U.K. security services lacked assurances about the security of its new suppliers.
“Given the uncertainty that this creates around Huawei’s supply chain, the U.K. can no longer be confident they can ensure the security,” Dowden said.
The U.K. revision could influence other EU member countries’ approach to the Chinese telecom vendor.
Over the past year and a half, European cybersecurity authorities drafted a joint strategy to increase the security of 5G networks — a process in which the U.K.’s National Cyber Security Centre was closely involved.
The European Union released a “toolbox” with measures in January, including measures to decrease the reliance on Chinese suppliers for future telecom networks.
Emilio Casalicchio contributed reporting.
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