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Government Considers Zero Huawei Kit in UK Telecoms by 2023 UPDATE2

Saturday, May 23rd, 2020 (8:03 am) - Score 5,161
internet emergency

At the start of 2020 the UK gave broadband ISPs and mobile operators a green light to use only non-core focused telecoms kit from Chinese giant Huawei (here), including a cap to reduce their market share. But new reports allege that the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, could be about to do a dramatic U-turn and shock the industry.

Officials have long been concerned about the security implicates of deploying Huawei‘s kit into the country’s telecoms infrastructure and we won’t repeat all that again (see the article linked above). Much of this pressure has come from the USA via President Trump, which adds a political dynamic due to their bitter trade dispute with China.

Since then a number of other events have occurred, not least the questions over China’s questionable response to the outbreak of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) and plans for a new security law in Hong Kong. Meanwhile the looming trade deal between the UK and USA is also a consideration. Whatever the realities or falsehoods of those original security concerns, wider politics and pressures may be starting to weigh on the Government.

Fast forward to today and several newspapers (here and here) are reporting that the Government may be set to cave into demands from a key group of Conservative MPs, which have been staunchly opposed to any involvement of the Chinese firm in UK telecoms (both in the core and less sensitive non-core part of such networks).

The newspapers claim that a new plan is being developed by Boris, which could allegedly reduce the Chinese company’s involvement in UK broadband and mobile infrastructure to zero by 2023. One of the rebel MPs opposed to China’s involvement in UK telecoms, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, said: “This is very good news and I hope and believe it will be the start of a complete and thorough review of our dangerous dependency on China.”

It’s going to get ugly..

Leaving aside the inevitable ramifications of becoming less open to inward investment from China. Any dramatic change of course now seems likely to produce a hostile response from the industry, which will have already revised their plans to adopt the Government’s earlier balanced approach (BT alone is set to take a £500m hit from that). But completely removing Huawei’s kit from UK networks by 2023 also seems like an unworkable ask.

Firstly, part of the reason for the Government’s decision in January was likely to be because completely banning Huawei could make the rollout of new “gigabit-capable” 5G, and possibly also fixed broadband ISP networks, both much slower and more expensive (less competition = more expensive kit) to achieve. This in turn would have impacted Boris’s recent £5bn pledge to ensure that every UK home can access 1Gbps speed broadband networks by the end of 2025.

The notion of reducing Huawei’s involvement to “zero” by 2023 is also unrealistic for other reasons, not least because it would mean ripping out masses of existing 4G, and some newer 5G, mobile kit, as well as replacing tens of thousands of Huawei based broadband street cabinets (FTTC / VDSL2) and ripping their “full fibre” (FTTP) Optical Network Terminals (ONT) off the walls in UK homes etc.

Achieving that kind of mass infrastructure cull by 2023 would be a massive task and could well cost billions across all of the various network operators (i.e. who pays and is it right to expect operators to foot such a colossal bill, despite being given the all clear for years beforehand?). All of this would also divert engineers and resources from deploying new services, possibly for several years, which will dramatically slow the 5G and FTTP roll-out.

Suffice to say that such a plan, if confirmed, will almost certainly still need to include some exceptions for existing deployments, not least so that operators can replace ageing kit organically (i.e. as part of natural end-of-life retirements rather than forcibly – this would of course take many years longer).

Likewise there will be concerns about the disproportionate impact upon smaller operators, which simply won’t have the resources to do this. Lest we also forget the ongoing disruption to street works due to COVID-19, which may well continue to some degree into late 2021. But for now it’s a case of wait and see.. again.

Between COVID-19 and a change of stance on Huawei, the Government may also gain some political cover for conceding (eventually) that the 2025 gigabit target might struggle to be met on time (this was always a highly probable outcome, even without such developments).

UPDATE 25th May 2020

The Government’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has confirmed that it is to conduct an emergency review, which is almost certain to conclude that the latest US sanctions against Huawei will make it incredibly difficult to continue allowing their access to UK networks (e.g. the company will have to rely on components from other less trusted sources, which will do little to help their current situation).

A Government Spokesman said:

“Following the US announcement of additional sanctions against Huawei, the NCSC is looking carefully at any impact they could have to the UK’s networks.”

Meanwhile Victor Zhang, VP of Huawei, reiterated that they remain “happy to discuss with NCSC any concerns they may have” and will otherwise “continue the rollout of a reliable and secure 5G networks across Britain.” As usual much of the mainstream press has focused on the impact upon 5G networks, while forgetting that you also can’t do 5G without 4G and the impact upon existing fixed broadband infrastructure.

UPDATE 27th May 2020

A new report in The Times (paywall) appears to indicate that criticism of the proposed plan may have helped rebel MPs recognise that what they wanted to achieve would be “impossible” by 2023. Instead the newspaper suggests that they may take a softer approach and simply order broadband and mobile operators to stop installing new kit from Huawei by 2023, albeit without requiring them to rip out existing infrastructure.

Admittedly the new approach, if confirmed, would still present significant challenges (e.g. the problem of dealing with partial replacements using newer hardware in order to correct for faults – at some levels you can’t mix kit from different manufacturers) and a longer window for removal would be more manageable.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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68 Responses
  1. Avatar Haawyyyayeeman says:

    Huawei kit i have gave me covid

  2. Avatar Michael V says:

    This will be a massive blow to the four Operators. With the added 2023 date to make it worse. The government has no idea. They sit in their offices & make up new rules without communicating to the industry involved. Vodafone, Three, O2, EE are going to put up a fight.

  3. Avatar joe says:

    23 is utterly mad. Now if the gov imposed a ‘no new H kit’ after 23 thats realistic.

    1. Avatar FibreFred says:

      Agreed no new Huawei kit from 21 I would say with a credible plan to phase existing kit out.

    2. Avatar joe says:

      21 is not possible unless you accept long delays to the rollout.

  4. Avatar Meadmodj says:

    Another topic being driven by politics and egos rather than fact. Are there issues with China regarding human rights, economic dependency, supply chain and security?, in my view absolutely yes but networks are vulnerable at all layers and we are just as much at risk at hardware/chipset/firmware level. There are few technology companies that do not source components, sub assemblies and finished product from China including Nokia. The issue is who controls the design and how the physical fabrication is checked to ensure nothing has been introduced and it is this that has been neglected.
    Operators are already taking action and will address the existing decision and as highlighted by BT at considerable cost.
    Perhaps we should remove all our TVs made from sub assemblies from China (the majority of TVs) or all the Amazon echos just in case.

    1. Avatar joe says:

      Give over Mead 5g is about the Sw that sits on top. Its very diff than a dumb chip here or there.

    2. Avatar Meadmodj says:

      Yep, but just making the point that security vulnerabilities can be at every level whether implanted or via physically or RF access and that individuals or companies lower in the supply are just as persuadable as large multinationals by their state.

      However if the Huawei issue is then just the high level software then why when BT are moving to “white box” approaches and have access to much of proprietary code, that politicians appear to want to ban anything with a Huawei badge including antenna and peripheral devices.

    3. Avatar Meadmodj says:

      Also FYI I wouldn’t treat an Amazon Echo or other IoT device as the odd dumb chip.
      TI DM3725 ARM Cortex-A8 Core Digital Media Processor
      A TI power management integrated circuit (IC)
      4 gigabytes (GB) of NAND flash memory
      256 megabytes (MB) of LPDDR1 random access memory (RAM)
      A Qualcomm Atheros QCA6234 dual-band 802.11n WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 module.
      Quite a little gem.

    4. Avatar joe says:

      hardware is much easier to verify on a security basis. Sw on any scale nearly impossible.

    5. Avatar 1308 says:

      Human right it’s just what you people say which country /countries got no human right we all know that using human rights is only an excuse to stop China economic growth my country care about live far better than the western countries next talk do you know how many people innocent people at been killed let’s talk about after the second world war one million or more? By the country or countries who claimed that they got human rights and freedom of speech

    6. Avatar Meadmodj says:

      Difficult but not impossible. The focus has been on functional testing and cost but security now needs to be higher in importance. On simpler devices check sums, signature patterns, etc can be used during testing and security monitoring but for more complex systems there is more focus on White, Black and Grey box testing. There is also improvements AI all the time. If the software is tested against specification then unexpected results and vulnerabilities can be identified (malign or not), with any code present that is not used being investigated. Infrastructure and other major providers should be doing this with all the kit they use regardless of source and ensuring that no one entity has total control over design, production, maintenance or audit.

    7. Avatar joe says:

      “If the software is tested against specification then unexpected results and vulnerabilities can be identified (malign or not), with any code present that is not used being investigated. ”

      You are underestimating the complexity here. Validation tests won’t pull out everything in the sw. Nor can you just investigate the bits that you won’t really know aren’t doing anything at that moment.

      Its hardly

      10 PRINT “This is secure, honest”

      20 GOTO 10

      RUN

    8. Avatar dean says:

      If testing software for security and vulnerabilities is that difficult how will they know non-Huawei kit is free from its spying, stealing or whatever it is what is supposed to be so bad but never 100% proven?

    9. Avatar joe says:

      @Dean in a sense they don’t. However the alternatives to H have not been assessed as high risk vendors. And for good reason. The Finnish state doesn’t have a long reputation for hacking and industrial espionage.

    10. Avatar Meadmodj says:

      I do not underestimate the complexity. It is simply the amount of time and effort required to test things properly. The more important the end use is the more time/resource should be allocated to test and in-life monitoring. We are reminded by hackers all the time of the short comings in product and software development, we have had decades of vendors purposely using users to test their wares and many of our major services are layers and layers of code dating back 40 years. It is a long time since I programmed microprocessors in hex but my view is that every instruction and byte should be accounted for.
      100% probably not but a long way from where we are today.

    11. Avatar Billy says:

      West has been too busy with short term profit and electing clowns when we should be decreasing dependence on China and moving manufacturing to other developing nations. Longer we ignore this the worse China will bite. Debt trap diplomacy and buying other nations for voted in the UN. They know they’re untouchable with 1m+ in camps and nobody lifts a finger…

    12. Avatar joe says:

      The Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre exists to try to do that but even they accept they can’t be sure….

    13. Avatar ben says:

      “alternatives to H have not been assessed as high risk vendors. And for good reason. The Finnish state doesn’t have a long reputation for hacking and industrial espionage.”

      If by Finnish you are referring to Nokia you would be wrong, their non mobile handset division of hardware is produced for the most part by a company called Foxconn, a company known for potential spying hardware chips in devices and worse practices.

  5. Avatar Matt says:

    So basically… throw away everything thats been done in the past 10+ years and start again.

    Gov gonna come collect everything off the people thats a threat too I suppose.

    Who’s replacing Huawei too???

    I’m a fan of replacing Huawei in future setups and rollouts but I also don’t think putting our eggs into anothere basket unless its our own is wise.

    Just people talking because they can’t help it as usual

    1. Avatar Herve Shango says:

      Blame Donald Trump for influencing the Tories on Huawei involvement in our internet and mobile infrastructure on being savagely restricted.

    2. Avatar Matt says:

      I somewhat agree that we need to remove Huawei from our infrastructure though…. but I don’t agree on then adding in other foreign manufacturers either.

      It’s a hard question to answer but my oppinion is we need to be working towards manufacturing our own infrastructure, even if it takes a long time.

      Whats done is done, and we can only filter it out in future upgrades, but even suggesting ripping it all out and starting again is unthinkable and if ever enforced would probably leave us with not communications sector at all.

    3. Avatar The Facts says:

      Amstrad and Sinclair?

  6. Avatar Matthew says:

    Maybe it should be that anything going forward for telecom networks has to be completely none Huawei and that companies have a period of 5-10 years to replace existing equipment.

  7. Avatar Fabrizio says:

    Could it be just some political gesturing so that our trade deal with USA goes ahead to keep them ‘sweet’ ?

    1. Avatar joe says:

      the pressure is from inside the party. Its was always looking a tricky vote b4 covid. Now with distrust right up with China over Covid its just not going to go though without too much damage.

    2. Avatar James Matthews says:

      Yes, I think you’re probably right. Trump is very focused to avoid any ally siding with China over the US, especially in terms of Huawei. There was perhaps a chance that he wouldn’t be in power after his initial term but that looks unlikely now.

      If Brexit wasn’t happening this probably wouldn’t be an issue as Trump would have to contend with the entire bloc but now we’re a small subset and he knows we need the USA more than they need us so he’ll press the advantage or withhold a trade deal.

      So government need to weigh up the costs, and it’s almost assured that getting a quick deal from the US is worth more than replacing the hardware.

      If this is true, expect Boris to mention the US a lot when he announces the U turn, even if it’s not directly about the trade deal.

    3. Avatar joe says:

      Brexit really isn’t the primary issue at play here. For many Tory MPs they don’t trust China on security (rightly). They had the votes to defeat the gov on this b4 covid. Events have only made that easier to bring more MPs to their side.

      They basically think greater security is worth paying the price on fttp costs and rollout speed. The gov was willing to take pay that trade off but 50+ of their MPs aren’t.

  8. Avatar edward says:

    Nothing more than political pandering to the USA. Hidden under the veil of wanting to protect us all (as usual).

    Makes sod all difference what kit you have here considering digital communications particularly the net take paths all over the world. If the Huawei threat is that bad Huawei will just intercept the traffic at another point in the chain rather than in this county.

    Maybe they just want us all to have Google, Amazon, or Apple devices who already collect data like a Vampire collects blood and the sheep will feel more safe because they are American and we can all trust America right? Its not like that country fights like babies worse than ours withing its political parties or has clandestine government organisations that monitor your communications or likes to have wars based on false pretence every 5-10 years is it? Er hold on… Went off track there for a minute, back to the China is evil and going to hack us all narrative.

    1. Avatar Pezza says:

      Totally agree.. let’s not forget the bans they place on Chinese goods for breach of patents yet when Apple does the exact same thing its let off the hook and sales bans places on their goods by courts magically disappear in the US… like Samsung and Apple who are of course direct competitors..
      Damn went off track myself there..

  9. Avatar Mike says:

    No doubt higher prices on the horizon…

    1. Avatar joe says:

      The cost to strip out H would be £B’s

    2. Avatar A_Builder says:

      A lot of towers will be converted from 4G to 4G/5G so At that point all The active and passive kit is changed and all you are left with is power/concrete base and steel tower.

      So if you are ever going to minimise H kit level now is the time to do it. With copper switch off DSLAMs will naturally wilt and be removed.

      Similarly with FTTP rollout the time is now to make that descision.

      The problem with China’s approach to starting trade wars with AUS over criticism is that I don’t trust them now to not decide to switch something off if they get riled – and they seem increasingly thin skinned.

    3. Avatar joe says:

      Well you basically decided how much you are willing to pay for no H. You can’t quickly strip H out as there simply isn’t the kit to replace it all now both 4g and any existing 5g. And the added cost of H is 500m just at a capped 1/3 far higher at 0% even ignoring the opportunity costs

      Obviously naturally stripping it out as you upgrade is cheaper than ripping it out early – you could wait for 6g and have a batter planned strategy for removal given you have more time for alternative providers.

      Choices.

  10. Avatar Buggerlugz says:

    I initially was supportive of Huawei but now believing China most probably deliberately infected the planet to decimate all the economies in the west, thus making them more dependent on China I’ve changed my mind.

    I’d go as far as supporting a blanket ban on ALL tech equipment from China
    being blocked from imports into the UK forever.

    1. Avatar deano says:

      You better go back to a horse and buggy then because the computers in all modern cars have chinese chips in them.

    2. Avatar Kerry says:

      Have you been reading the Daily Mail?

    3. Avatar Buggerlugz says:

      Thing is we are more than capable of creating and mass producing our own chips and technology in this country. So that’s exactly what we should be doing.

    4. Avatar AnotherTim says:

      We are capable of designing chips in this country (and do), but we have no chip fabrication plants so can’t actually make any.

    5. Avatar Timeless says:

      theres also the expense issue, lm sure that if we are going to start fabricating our own tech that private companies will find a way to gouge us of even more of our hard earned cash.. the reason China is the main base of tech is because they can make it cheaper than the rest, there would be no other reason to use tech from China otherwise.

    6. Avatar Irradiated says:

      All this would be quite easily done, we could just blatantly copy what the Chinese have made and badge it as our own, they’ve done this themselves for years

    7. Avatar JmJohnson says:

      Yes China make it economically cheaper.
      But that’s because they don’t value human life.
      They treat workers like slave labour.
      I’ve lost count of the number of deaths at places like Foxconn due to either exhaustion or suicide.

    8. Avatar ben says:

      “We are capable of designing chips in this country (and do), but we have no chip fabrication plants so can’t actually make any.”

      Unfortunately from the thread start to its current it appears you’re preaching common sense to many stupids.

  11. Avatar Jordan says:

    I can promise you this isn’t going to happen 🙂

  12. Avatar Openreach says:

    If this all true, Openreach will be massive blow by this!

  13. Avatar Billy says:

    Donald Trump will be adding Zanussi to his sanctions list next, because it sounds foreign and therefore must be a threat to national security.

    1. Avatar Chris Sayers says:

      The applince of science

  14. Avatar Buggerlugz says:

    As this issue with China is more about “doing the right thing.” I’m certain the governments of the world will be far more concerned about “doing what’s right for us elected representatives”.

    So nothing will be done.

  15. Avatar Jonathan Roberts says:

    Haha brilliant, daily mail esk article, utter tosh

  16. Avatar Sharon White says:

    Broadband Tax will rise.

  17. Avatar Eric Shaun says:

    Even after crippling the world you guys still want to suck chinas c***

    No

    CHINA MUST PAY!

    NO CHINA BASED COMPANIES IN EUROPE!

    1. Avatar 125us says:

      Strange comment. If other countries adopted a similar stance because of Britain’s former empire and colonies where would we be?

      How many millions of people would lose their jobs if we closed down Chinese companies in Europe?

      What if the outbreak started in Belgium, or Bermuda, or Bahrain? Would you be proposing the same for those countries? This isn’t a manmade virus. Where it emerged in the world is entirely random.

  18. Avatar Buggerlugz says:

    Well, you said it! Whilst I agree with your sentiment the trouble is China has deep pockets and “the world” has greedy corrupt people running it who will easily be bought.

    1. Avatar Pezza says:

      Modern day capitalism at its finest I’m afraid.. the world run for the benefit of the 1%. Things like this show that now and again..

  19. Avatar buggerlugz says:

    “Following the US announcement of additional sanctions against Huawei, the NCSC is looking carefully at any impact they could have to the UK’s networks.”

    Thank you America, for the helping hand! Not our fault China, its America’s fault!

    1. Avatar CarlT says:

      Taking back control.

  20. Avatar WumaoCCPVirus says:

    Seems the wumao have found this website too now.

  21. Avatar Buggerlugz says:

    Indeed it does. Interesting, get everywhere don’t they? Like their corona-viruses….

  22. Avatar Archie says:

    I like the red button with the word ‘PUSH’ scribed onto it. Is ISPReview implying that nuclear war will take place if this goes ahead? That speculation is far beyond the reach of ISPReview, or are you privy to knowledge that the rest of us are not? Made me chuckle.

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      The “red button” is a common general visual metaphor for the moment when something significant is about to change all of a sudden.

  23. Avatar Chris Sayers says:

    Huawei kit with backdoors baked in for the Chinese government could be true, more to the point are Huawei refusing to bake in back doors for the American government, Edward Snowden showed that the Americans are capable of doing anything.

  24. Avatar Pezza says:

    Uh??? 3 years… that’s it? So all the operators have to find new vendors, equipment or develop new equipment, plan the network integration, test, implement, install, test and go live in 3 years.. No doubt all at the operators meaning us the customers expense, all because the idiot Trump has a chip in his arrogant shoulders, because the US never spies on anyone right? Stupidity if our British government yet again tearing its head..

  25. Avatar Pezza says:

    Basically, if you chose to forcefully remove all Huawei kit from all UK cellular and broadband and telecommunications systems in 3 years. The U.K. will be going back to the dark ages in communications. I hope the industry pushes back hard and sues the U.K. government if they do decide to enforce this.

    1. Avatar joe says:

      Rubbish. It would be more expensive but there are other providers of the kit needed for 5g.

    2. Avatar Pezza says:

      @Joe, you need to read the story again mate, it refers to ALL communication networks, internet and all cellular.. hence my comment.

    3. Avatar 125us says:

      @joe

      It would be impossible to remove and replace all Huawei kit in three years. All you could do in three years is the remove part. Turning things off. Taking away FTTC from people who currently have it.

  26. Avatar joe says:

    @Pezza No you need to read the actual stories not marks speculation. They don’t talk about the copper network but 5g. So Fttc is nether here nor there.

    1. Avatar graham says:

      Who/what organisation is going to supply all this hardware and it not be made in China?

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