Oust­ing Huawei could ‘switch off ’ phone sig­nals and cost up to £2bn

Re­mov­ing Chi­nese firm’s equip­ment from 5G in­fra­struc­ture may dis­rupt 4G, writes James Cook

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Technology Intelligen­ce -

Strip­ping out Huawei equip­ment from the UK’s 5G in­fra­struc­ture could cre­ate mo­bile phone sig­nal black­outs and cost the tele­coms in­dus­try up to £2bn, ac­cord­ing to in­dus­try ex­perts.

“This is hugely frus­trat­ing for the op­er­a­tors,” said James Bar­ford, the di­rec­tor of tele­coms at En­ders Anal­y­sis, who came up with the es­ti­mate.

Tele­coms op­er­a­tors have al­ready be­gun dis­cus­sions with Huawei com­peti­tors such as Eric­s­son and Nokia, ac­cord­ing to in­dus­try sources. How­ever, it is be­lieved any re­place­ment kit from ri­vals will come at a pre­mium. An added com­pli­ca­tion is that most UK net­works are build­ing their 5G net­works on top of their ex­ist­ing 4G in­fra­struc­ture, which would mean that they may be forced to re­move 4G as well as 5G Huawei equip­ment from their net­works, fur­ther pil­ing on costs. “A big con­cern is that it would mean pe­ri­ods of down­time and peo­ple not hav­ing ac­cess to 4G,” said Assem­bly an­a­lyst Matthew Howett. “If this goes ahead, then it will mean that there will be a sig­nif­i­cant dis­rup­tion to the 4G net­work.” That’s on top of an an­tic­i­pated slow­ing in the speed of 5G be­ing launched across the coun­try. Voda­fone has pre­vi­ously warned that the UK’s lead­er­ship in 5G will be lost if com­pa­nies are forced to spend time and money re­plac­ing equip­ment.

“It’s a mas­sive prob­lem to have to start re­plac­ing that and un­doubt­edly across the op­er­a­tors, it is go­ing to cause 5G cov­er­age to be lower than it would be oth­er­wise,” added Bar­ford. The con­cerns come af­ter The

Tele­graph re­vealed on Sun­day that the UK could end the use of Huawei tech­nol­ogy in its 5G net­work as soon as this year amid se­cu­rity con­cerns.

GCHQ is un­der­stood to have re­vised its pre­vi­ous as­sur­ance that the risks posed by the Chi­nese tech­nol­ogy gi­ant can be safely man­aged.

The Gov­ern­ment is now pre­par­ing to pub­lish a new re­view into the im­pacts of US sanc­tions on Huawei which is likely to lead to net­works be­ing forced to be­gin phas­ing out Huawei kit by Christ­mas. The move rep­re­sents a dra­matic about-turn by the Prime Min­is­ter af­ter his de­ci­sion in Jan­uary to al­low Huawei to build parts of the net­work.

It also aligns the UK with the US which has clas­si­fied Huawei as a na­tional se­cu­rity threat amid claims the com­pany has “close ties to the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment and mil­i­tary ap­pa­ra­tus”. Huawei has said the de­ci­sion was based on “in­nu­endo and mis­taken as­sump­tions”.

Oliver Dow­den, the Cul­ture Sec­re­tary, said US sanc­tions on Huawei will likely have a “sig­nif­i­cant im­pact” on its re­li­a­bil­ity.

“This is an open mar­ket econ­omy but I don’t want to see our crit­i­cal na­tional in­fra­struc­ture at risk of be­ing in any way con­trolled by po­ten­tially hos­tile state ven­dors,” Boris John­son said last week. “So, we have to think very care­fully about how to pro­ceed now.”

BT and Voda­fone are be­lieved to have since asked to be given un­til 2030 to re­move Huawei’s equip­ment from their ex­ist­ing 5G net­works. How­ever, the Gov­ern­ment is fac­ing pres­sure from rebel Con­ser­va­tive MPs who have pushed for stricter lim­its on Huawei kit. A source close to the group of 60 Tory rebels said they be­lieved a pro­posed 2029 end date for re­mov­ing kit was “un­con­scionable.”

BT has been seek­ing to chal­lenge the dom­i­nance of Huawei over the in­dus­try by throw­ing its weight be­hind a new “open-source” ap­proach to

‘It’s a mas­sive prob­lem to have. It is go­ing to cause 5G cov­er­age to be lower than it would be oth­er­wise’

‘I still feel that to plump for a big role with those more niche sup­pli­ers is a big de­ci­sion for an op­er­a­tor’

buy­ing es­sen­tial net­work gear. The con­cept bor­rows from open-source soft­ware, with tele­com com­pa­nies set­ting the pa­ram­e­ters for the tech­nol­ogy they want and out­sourc­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing to a va­ri­ety of po­ten­tial sup­pli­ers.

Sup­port­ers say the ap­proach would re­duce the power of the sup­pli­ers. It would also boost trans­parency and make it eas­ier for the in­dus­try to iden­tify cy­ber­se­cu­rity vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties

Projects such as OpenRan, backed by BT, Voda­fone and Face­book, may still be too early to be­come a ma­jor com­peti­tor to Huawei, and ca­pa­ble of re­plac­ing any stripped-out equip­ment.

“I still feel that to plump for a big role with those more niche sup­pli­ers is a big de­ci­sion for an op­er­a­tor given that this ar­chi­tec­ture is a lit­tle bit un­proven and a lit­tle bit early,” said Kester Mann, a se­nior an­a­lyst at CCS In­sight, “but those con­ver­sa­tions will have to start at some point.”

Oliver Dow­den said sanc­tions will re­duce Huawei’s re­li­a­bil­ity

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