Huawei logo in a server room

UK extends deadline to remove Huawei equipment from 5G network

Image credit: Alexey Novikov | Dreamstime.com

The UK government has extended the deadline to remove Huawei equipment from the country's 5G core network functions to 31 December 2023, to avoid possible outages.

UK telecom operators will have until the end of 2023 to remove all Huawei equipment from their network ‘cores’, where some of the most sensitive data is processed, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has announced. 

The original deadline for the removal was set to January 2023.

The extension was granted in order to avoid possible “network outages and disruption for customers, due to delays caused by the pandemic and global supply chain issues” for a small number of operators, the DCMS said, adding that companies should strive to meet the original targets wherever possible.

The news follows calls from the telecommunications industry, which stated that the supply chain delays caused by the Covid-19 pandemic would make it difficult for operators to replace the equipment in time. BT CEO Philip Jansen had even warned the ban may result in network outages for customers if implemented too hastily.

As a result, DCMS also extended a requirement to limit Huawei to 35 per cent of the full fibre access network by three months to October 31, 2023. 

Nonetheless, the deadline to remove all Huawei gear from Britain's 5G networks by the end of 2027 remains unchanged, and Prime Minister Liz Truss’s government has sent legal notices to 35 UK telecoms network operators to officially enforce the move.

In 2020, UK decided to remove Huawei citing guidance from National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC). The decision posed a U-turn on the government's previous policy and was justified in light of the sanctions the White House imposed upon the Chinese firm. According to the NCSC, the new restrictions meant the security of the network - should it use Huawei equipment - could not be guaranteed.

The ban, which was enshrined in the Telecoms Security Bill last year, required operators such as BT, Vodafone and Hutchison to switch to alternative suppliers and eventually remove Huawei equipment already installed in their networks. 

“We must have confidence in the security of our phone and internet networks which underpin so much about our economy and everyday lives,” Digital Minister Michelle Donelan said at the time. 

 “Thanks to this government’s tough new laws we can drive up the security of telecoms infrastructure and control the use of high-risk equipment. Today I’m using these powers and making it a legal requirement for Huawei to be removed from 5G networks by 2027.”

Ian Levy, technical director of the UK National Cyber Security Centre, added: “Society increasingly relies on telecoms, and the NCSC, government and industry partners work closely to help ensure that these networks are secure and resilient in the long term.”

“The Telecoms Security Act ensures we can be confident in the resilience of the everyday services on which we rely, and the legal requirements in this Designated Vendor Direction are a key part of the security journey,” he added.

The announcement of the extension follows the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) warning against China’s strategy of using technology to increase its global influence.

In a RUSI Security Lecture earlier this week the head of the GCHQ, Sir Jeremy Fleming, stated that while countries such as the UK seek to use new technology to enable prosperity, the Chinese government sees them as a “tool to gain advantage through control of their markets, of those in their sphere of influence and of their own citizens”.

Earlier this week, E&T analysed the ramifications for the world’s largest chipmaker and many other leading semiconductor stocks, as they suffered from the first major reaction to new restrictions on US exports to China.

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