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What does the UK’s Huawei indecision mean for 5G networks?

The government has said it is “not yet in a position” to decide on Huawei’s future role in UK 5G networks

The government has deferred its decision regarding Huawei’s role in the UK’s 5G networks, until it is better informed about a ban’s potential effects. Culture secretary Jeremy Wright disclosed that government is “not yet in a position” to make a decision as to whether Chinese telecoms firm Huawei should be included or excluded from the national rollout of 5G networks.

Deferral is in part informed by the fact that the implications of the recent US ban are still uncertain, with the UK wanting to prevent damage to commerce and consumers alike. When the government has a clearer idea of the potential ramifications, Wright contends, it will be in a better position to make the call.

Speaking to the BBC, he warned that the US ban – which saw the government prevent some companies from selling to Huawei, ostensibly on national security grounds – “could have a potential impact on the future availability and reliability of Huawei’s products, together with other market impacts, and so are relevant considerations in determining Huawei’s involvement in the network.”

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Concerns abound regarding the potential security risks of some of Huawei’s products and services, as well as the company’s reportedly close links to the Chinese government. For its part, the Huawei has protested its innocence, maintaining independence from the government and denying the security risks of its products.

Huawei decision: What does this mean for 5G networks?

If you’re itching to start trialling 5G, you needn’t despair. UK mobile operators are continuing with their rollout of 5G networks, despite uncertainty about the government’s impending decision. Vodafone has extended its 5G network to 15 towns and cities in the UK, while EE offers the service in six locations. Competitor network Three is set to test 5G this August. Tentative progress continues.

However, the potential eventuality of a ban could mean that mobile network operators could be forced to start afresh – this time without the Huawei equipment – at great cost to companies.

Meanwhile, the only mobile operators to have rolled out 5G so far (Vodafone and EE) have used Huawei to supply their radio access networks. This makes sense; Huawei is the world’s biggest supplier of telecoms equipment and the company plays a pioneering role in the extension of 5G networks. But it could spell trouble in the future: “5G services could be impacted with the continued uncertainty over the future of Huawei in the UK,” tech analyst Mark Newman warned the BBC.

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Shadow secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, Tom Watson, has lamented the indecision, saying the debacle has been characterised by “confusion”. “Whether the government needs to ban Huawei for security reasons or not, the government has a rollout target to meet, 5G for the majority of the country by 2027,” he told the BBC. “So we need clarity one way or another, and the government should have a plan B for meeting this target if necessary”.

We will update this page as and when we receive more information about the UK government’s ruling on Huawei’s 5G involvement.

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