Tech ban will keep UK hang­ing on for 5G for an ex­tra three years

De­spite dire warn­ings of a dig­i­tal di­vide, down the line the in­dus­try will cope, writes Hasan Chowd­hury

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Technology Intelligen­ce -

The ban on Huawei “threat­ens to move Bri­tain into the dig­i­tal slow lane, push up bills and deepen the dig­i­tal di­vide”. That was the pre­dictable re­sponse from the Chi­nese tele­coms com­pany af­ter the UK bowed to US pres­sure and or­dered the phased re­moval of Huawei from its 5G net­work.

The de­ci­sion was based on a re­view by the Na­tional Cy­ber Se­cu­rity Cen­tre (NCSC) into Huawei’s role in the UK af­ter US sanc­tions barred its ac­cess to Amer­i­can prod­ucts – a move the NCSC claims makes Huawei an in­creased se­cu­rity risk.

Un­der the plans, tele­coms op­er­a­tors will not be able to add any new Huawei com­po­nents to their 5G net­works from the end of this year. All equip­ment made by Huawei must also be re­moved from 5G in­fra­struc­ture by 2027.

The ban will cost UK op­er­a­tors as much as £2bn, and will de­lay the roll­out of 5G net­works by be­tween two and three years, the Gov­ern­ment said. But the real cost could be even greater. “While any ben­e­fits from the im­proved se­cu­rity may never be­come ap­par­ent, the roll­out of 5G net­works in the UK will in­evitably be slower and more ex­pen­sive as a re­sult of the de­ci­sion,” says Dan Rids­dale, an­a­lyst at Edi­son Group.

Fifth gen­er­a­tion mo­bile tech­nol­ogy, which en­ables down­load speeds 10-20 times the cur­rent rate, is likely to have a pro­found im­pact on in­no­va­tion.

Just as the in­ter­net thus far has rev­o­lu­tionised hu­man com­mu­ni­ca­tions and trans­ac­tions, from video calls to so­cial me­dia to eBay, 5G will ex­tend that net­work ef­fect to inan­i­mate ob­jects.

It prom­ises a world in which cars can com­mu­ni­cate with cars, with the road­way and with the peo­ple around it. In this vi­sion 5G will be an en­abler whose chief ef­fect is to un­leash new prod­ucts and tools.

Us­age of high-speed in­ter­net con­nec­tions in the health­care, man­u­fac­tur­ing, re­tail, and mo­bil­ity sec­tors alone could in­crease global GDP by be­tween $1.2 tril­lion and $2 tril­lion by 2030, ac­cord­ing to the study from the McKin­sey Global In­sti­tute, the con­sult­ing firm’s re­search arm.

‘The roll­out of 5G net­works in the UK will in­evitably be slower and more ex­pen­sive as a re­sult of the de­ci­sion’

Im­proved con­nec­tiv­ity will also au­to­mate tasks, al­low­ing care­givers to spend more time with pa­tients. McKin­sey said that health­care could gen­er­ate an ad­di­tional $420bn (£333bn) in global GDP.

It may still be in its in­fancy, but 5G ap­pli­ca­tions have al­ready emerged in the UK. In Worcester, a fac­tory to build boil­ers in­volves sen­sors us­ing 5G to en­sure pro­duc­tion lines run smoothly with lit­tle hu­man over­sight.

The likes of Sam­sung have rolled out 5G smart­phones, while cities such as Bris­tol are us­ing 5G to col­lect data on the way their city runs and im­prove traf­fic flow and air qual­ity.

In the health­care in­dus­try, hos­pi­tals have started to ex­plore uses of 5G for the re­mote mon­i­tor­ing of Covid pa­tients with telemedici­ne apps, for ex­am­ple, or sen­sors keep­ing a check on crit­i­cal health in­di­ca­tors. In the midst of a pub­lic health cri­sis, then, de­lays to a 5G roll­out could have dire con­se­quences.

Any slow­down to the in­tro­duc­tion of these ap­pli­ca­tions would snatch away a real eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity for the UK. Re­search con­ducted by As­sem­bly pre­vi­ously es­ti­mated there will be an eco­nomic hit of £6.8bn from not de­ploy­ing 5G.

There are also fears of in­creas­ing the dig­i­tal di­vide in the UK. “Most ru­ral ar­eas have been heav­ily re­liant on 2G, 3G and 4G and in some cases don’t have 4G... when you talk about 5G to en­sure net­work ac­cess in ru­ral ar­eas, there will be an im­pact for sure,” says Paolo Pesca­tore, in­dus­try an­a­lyst at PP Fore­sight.

All is not lost, how­ever. Op­er­a­tors such as BT and Three have al­ready en­gaged other sup­pli­ers to se­cure gear that can re­place Huawei’s kit.

Time should be on their side too. Neil Cam­pling, an­a­lyst at Mirabaud Se­cu­ri­ties, sees the gov­ern­ment’s timetable for Huawei’s re­moval over the next seven years as “not as im­pact­ful as first feared”.

Philip Jansen, BT chief ex­ec­u­tive, said the com­pany was con­fi­dent its ex­ist­ing net­works would not be sig­nif­i­cantly im­pacted by the de­ci­sion.

“The se­cu­rity of our net­works is an ab­so­lute pri­or­ity for BT,” Jansen said.

“Clearly this de­ci­sion has lo­gis­ti­cal and cost im­pli­ca­tions for com­mu­ni­ca­tions providers in the UK mar­ket – how­ever, we be­lieve the timescales out­lined will al­low us to make these changes with­out im­pact­ing on the cov­er­age or re­silience of our ex­ist­ing net­works.

“It will also al­low us to con­tinue to roll­out our 5G and full fi­bre net­works with­out a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on the timescales we’ve pre­vi­ously an­nounced.”

With 5G al­ready boost­ing some ser­vices in the UK, its true suc­cess in shap­ing the fu­ture of health­care, re­gions out­side of Lon­don and mul­ti­ple other in­dus­tries will come down to not only se­lect­ing the cor­rect gear, but also rolling it out quickly.

A mo­bile phone mast in Read­ing, strip­ping Huawei from the 5G net­work will be costly

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