‘UK faces mobile blackouts if Huawei 5G ban imposed by 2023’
BT and Vodafone said their customers in the UK would face cell phone signal blackouts if they received three years or less to remove Huawei equipment from their 5G networks.
Network vendor executives told MPs that it would take at least five years, and ideally seven, if such an order was made.
The government is expected to announce new limits on the use of the Chinese company’s kit within the next two weeks.
Huawei urged to take more time.
“There is no burning bridge,” said British Vice President Huawei Jeremy Thompson, adding that it was too early to determine what impact the new US sanctions would have.
The company also denied allegations that it would ever act against its customers’ interests, even if it were told by the Chinese government.
The hearing of the scientific and technological committee represents a last chance for companies to present their case before the government before a decision is made.
In January, the government placed a limit on Huawei’s 5G market share, but decided that the suggested security risks raised by allowing the Chinese company to provide the country’s telecommunication service providers could be managed.
Since then, however, Washington has announced new sanctions designed to prevent the company from making its own chips.
As a result, Huawei faces other companies’ chips for use in its equipment.
GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Center is believed to have told the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sports that this means it can no longer guarantee the safety of Huawei products.
While it now seems likely that the government will opt for a ban of some kind, the question is when it will come into effect.
Some Tory backbenchers are calling for a deadline to be set before the 2024 general election – and it has been speculated that it could be 2023.
But Vodafone and BT – which both use Huawei products in their networks – said that this would be extremely disruptive.
“Reaching zero over a three-year period would literally mean blackouts for 4G and 2G customers, as well as 5G, across the country,” said Howard Watson, BT’s Chief Technology and Information Officer.
He explained that the logistics involved in carrying cranes and closing roads to replace trees, base stations and other Huawei equipment meant that the only way to respect the time period would be to go to multiple sites in an area simultaneously.
3G signals would not be affected since the EE network uses the Nokia kit to provide that service.
Vodafone has created a similar case: it uses the Huawei kit in its 2G, 3G. 4G and 5G networks.
“[Customers] it would lose the signal, sometimes for a couple of days, depending on how large or intrusive the work is to be done, “said Andrea Dona, head of Vodafone UK networks.
“I would say that a five-year transition time would be the minimum”
Watson added: “A minimum of five years, ideally seven.”
“A few more weeks”
Earlier in the hearing, Huawei said it was too early to decide on any new restrictions.
Executives said the United States has not yet confirmed the details of the sanctions, adding that they would subsequently need time to see if they could mitigate the impact.
The company has accumulated chip stocks and believes it can continue to supply chip-based equipment for some time.
“We are able to provide our customers with their orders and support the existing parts network,” said Thompson.
“And in terms of who the alternative [chip] the suppliers are not only Chinese. There are also European companies located in this space.
“We will be able to share those [details] with you, but it will still take a few weeks. “
A DCMS spokeswoman said she could not reveal whether the department had already delivered her recommendations to the prime minister.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to convene a National Security Council meeting within the next few days to discuss the possibility of a ban, which could also extend to the country’s broadband infrastructure.
Vodafone and BT’s warnings about stopping customers in the event of Huawei’s removal ring quickly, but in reality both companies have softened their position.
Last year they seemed determined to fight any plan to exclude Huawei from the UK’s 5G networks.
Now they seem resigned to the fact that this will happen.
Indeed, BT agrees that threatened U.S. sanctions could mean that within a couple of years, it will not be able to procure reliable Huawei equipment.
Their emphasis is now on timing: they want to make sure that the government is not proceeding as quickly as many conservative backbenchers would like to remove the kit from Chinese companies.
They understand how the political mood has changed, but they will warn ministers that stopping mobile reception or abandoning the goal of bringing gigabit broadband to everyone by 2025 would also be bad policy.