IT experts refute claims that Huawei’s 5G removal would put UK in ‘digital slow lane’

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Despite warnings from certain quarters that the restrictions on using 5G equipment made by Huawei will be detrimental to the UK’s networks, the majority of IT professionals do not believe it will cause long-term damage.

Ed Brewster, a spokesperson for Huawei UK, has argued that any ban on deploying the company's equipment would “move Britain into the digital slow lane, push up bills and deepen the digital divide”.

However, in a survey - conducted by BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT - of 3,000 IT professionals, 53 per cent of respondents disagreed with Brewster’s statement, with a little over a quarter (28 per cent) agreeing.

Despite allowing Huawei to participate in the construction of “non-core” 5G infrastructure in January, the UK Government subsequently reversed that decision in July following further restrictions placed on the Chinese firm by the US.

Telecoms firms were given until 2027 to remove all Huawei-manufactured equipment from their networks, with BT warning that network blackouts could happen if they were pushed to do so any earlier.

In the BCS survey, nearly half (48 per cent) believe the government’s 2027 target is feasible, although 27 per cent said that stripping out by this date is not possible. The remainder were undecided.

Just over half (51 per cent) thought that Huawei’s removal from the network will make the UK safer. Close to one-third (31 per cent) feel the UK will be no safer with Huawei gone, while 19 per cent were undecided.

When it comes to building 5G equipment, only 51 per cent feel that a completely trustworthy supply and manufacturing chain is achievable; 28 per cent think it is not achievable, with the rest being neutral.

Dr Bill Mitchell OBE, director of policy at BCS, said: “Huawei’s claim that the UK will somehow be thrown into a dark age without them looks like hubris, according to most IT professionals. While our survey results show broad support for the government’s decision, most experts also feel that no 5G infrastructure can be guaranteed as totally trustworthy.

“The government’s challenge now is to build on public backing for the Huawei decision by ensuring standards of high competence, ethics and trust throughout the tech industries, as it develops the alternatives.

“The UK’s focus must be on accelerating the digitisation of the economy, including promoting Digital Apprenticeships and T-Levels, investing in digital first public services and dealing with the digital divide if we are to boost social and economic renewal after Covid-19 and Brexit.

“This will require intelligent planning for how the UK builds 5G capability to underpin digital transformation - without Huawei’s involvement and without damaging economic growth.”

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