Concerned very much about the prospect of China using Huawei-supplied equipment to carry out covert surveillance in the UK, Boris Johnson’s government is preparing to completely ban Huawei’s participation in its 5G telecommunications network.
In January, Downing Street announced that Huawei had been permitted to participate in the roll-out of 5G networks in the UK but equipment supplied by the Chinese telecommunications equipment provider will not be installed in “core” parts of 5G networks.
The government added that Huawei’s products will form no more than 35 percent of the overall 5G telecoms kit. NCSC said that the limitation will allow 5G operators to carry out effective cyber security risk management and take measures to detect or prevent cyber threats.
However, according to BBC, recent events involving China have forced the UK to reconsider Huawei’s participation in the rollout of 5G networks in the country. The news agency revealed that as a result of pressure from Washington as well as Huawei losing access to US chip technology, the government may soon reduce Huawei’s participation from 35% to zero.
Removing Huawei kit from existing networks may take up to ten years
But it is easier said than done. Huawei’s telecommunications equipment is already deeply integrated into existing 4G networks and BT has already announced that removing Huawei-supplied equipment completely will be impossible before 2030, indicating that the separation process may take longer than a decade from now.
“If you were to try and not have Huawei at all [in 5G] ideally we’d want seven years and we could probably do it in five. “If you wanted to have no Huawei in the whole of the telecoms infrastructure across the whole of the UK, I think that’s impossible to do in under 10 years,” said BT CEO Philip Jansen to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“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,” said Howard Watson, BT’s chief technology and information officer. It is not clear, though, if the government intends to remove Huawei equipment from older 2G and 4G networks in the UK.
Andrea Dona, Vodafone UK’s head of networks, also told BBC that considering the company used Huawei kits in its 2G, 3G, 4G, and 5G networks, “customers would lose their signal, sometimes for a couple of days, depending on how big or how intrusive the work to be carried out is. I would say a five-year transition time would be the minimum.”
As of now, network operators are now allowed to deploy Huawei’s equipment or services in 5G Core database functions, 5G core-related services including but not limited to Authentication Server Function (AUSF), Access and Mobility Management Function (AMF), Unstructured Data Storage Function (UDSF), Network Exposure Function (NEF), Intermediate NEF (I-NEF), Network Repository Function (NRF), Network Slice Selection Function (NSSF), Policy Control Function (PCF), and Session Management Function (SMF) among others.