UK may cut Huawei out of 5G networks this year

It would happen much sooner than expected.

Qin Luyao/VCG via Getty Images

The UK was already having second thoughts about Huawei’s involvement in its 5G networks, and now it appears ready to completely change its stance. According to The Telegraph’s sources (via The Guardian), the government is crafting proposals that would block the use of new Huawei gear in 5G networks as soon as six months from now, and would accelerate the removal of any equipment already in place. It would come after the GCHQ intelligence agency “revised” its previous belief that the country could manage any security risks from Huawei products. Stricter US sanctions blocking access to chips would force Huawei to use “untrusted” tech and make the risk impossible to manage, the newspaper said.

A report outlining the revised ideas will reportedly reach Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week. Days earlier, a spokesman said a review of the new US sanctions would be ready soon. The Mail on Sunday added that Johnson may have to present the review to Parliament by the end of July given the seriousness of the claims.

The UK had decided in January that it would allow equipment from Huawei and other “high risk” companies in non-core parts of the nation’s 5G networks, limiting their involvement to 35 percent in networks connecting devices and other hardware to mobile masts. Reports later emerged that the UK might phase out Huawei over the space of three years.

The US has maintained that Huawei, ZTE and other Chinese companies are dangerous as they could potentially help China spy on sensitive communications. Officials have been publicly reluctant to outline just what (if anything) Huawei is capable of, however, and unofficial reports of access to carrier backdoors suggested these may have been common networking tools. Huawei has maintained its innocence.

Whoever is telling the truth, this could be a further blow to Huawei’s international plans. While Huawei’s forced exit from the US wasn’t surprising, its foothold elsewhere has been relatively safe, if sometimes limited. A UK rethink would kick it out of another major market, and it wouldn’t be surprising if other US allies followed suit.

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