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Learn lessons from Huawei 5G row, MPs warn

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The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has published a report advising the government to develop a new strategy for implementing new technologies, with consideration for security and competition.

Last year, the government performed a U-turn and blocked network operators from using Huawei equipment in any part of their 5G infrastructure. The government said that, following strict restrictions placed on the company by the White House, it could not guarantee that it would be able to provide secure 5G equipment

Operators were given until 2027 to remove all Huawei equipment from their networks. The government acknowledges that the decision will delay the rollout of 5G by two to three years at a cost of up to £2bn.

Blocking Huawei from the 5G rollout has effectively left operators dependent on just two vendors: Nokia and Ericsson.

The government has launched a scheme to diversify the 5G supply chain, although this will take years to produce noticeable results. Implementing OpenRAN standards – which render software and hardware components from different manufacturers interoperable – is key to diversifying the UK’s 5G supply chain. This removes the need for vendors to invest in legacy technology to ensure a high-quality 5G experience for users and compete with Nokia and Ericsson. Other strands of the strategy are supporting incumbent suppliers and attracting new suppliers to the UK market.

MPs on the Science and Technology Committee urged the government to learn from the troubled 5G rollout. Chair Greg Clark said that the government should lay out a strategy for implementing new technologies within a year. This strategy should identify critical emerging technologies and associated risks of dependency on high-risk vendors, and lay out proposals for how to respond.

“A lack of strategic foresight in 5G has seen the UK become dependent on only two vendors for a crucial technology,” said Clark. “We must learn from this experience to avoid making our economy and security vulnerable from a lack of acceptable alternatives in emerging technologies.

“AI and quantum technologies are just two examples of fields of development which can greatly advance the prospects for our economy and society, but can pose potential threats. While the committee welcomes the government’s 5G diversification strategy, it has come too late and contains little by way of detail.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: “The security and resilience of 5G and other emerging technologies is a top priority and our £250m strategy to tackle this global issue head-on is the first of its kind in the world. We are working at pace with international and industry partners on solutions and establishing a National Telecommunications Lab to open up new economic opportunities in mobile technology.”

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