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It's better to burn out than fade Huawei: UK rolls out schedule for rip-and-replace rules

Nothing from Chinese bogeyman allowed in core network by early 2023

The UK's Ministry of Fun* has published its roadmap for the removal of so-called high-risk vendors from UK telecoms networks as part of the second parliamentary reading of the Telecoms Security Bill.

The roadmap adds detail to the previous edicts, which banned wireless carriers from acquiring new Huawei-made equipment by the end of the year, and forces them to fully remove existing Huawei kit by the conclusion of 2027.

By the end of March 2021, networks will be prohibited from using Huawei's managed services, save for specialist maintenance services pertaining to kit installed prior to that date. Additionally, the rules prevent carriers from installing new Huawei infrastructure by the end of September, even if it was bought before the legal cut-off date.

The roadmap also shed much-needed light on the rip-and-replace mandate. Carriers are prohibited from using Huawei equipment in the core network after 28 January 2023. By that date, they must also remove any infrastructure from the Chinese telco kit maker located at "sites significant to national security" and limit the presence of Huawei in 5G, FTTP, and other gigabit-capable networks to 35 per cent.

In a statement, Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said: "Today I am setting out a clear path for the complete removal of high risk vendors from our 5G networks. This will be done through new and unprecedented powers to identify and ban telecoms equipment which poses a threat to our national security.

"We are also publishing a new strategy to make sure we are never again dependent on a handful of telecoms vendors for the smooth and secure running of our networks. Our plans will spark a wave of innovation in the design of our future mobile networks."

The decision to ban Huawei, first announced in July of this year, was justified by the sanctions levelled against the company by the Trump administration which have affected Huawei's ability to source new components for its telecoms and mobile products. This, Dowden said at the time, had a "significant, material" affect on its ability to supply the UK market.

Huawei has repeatedly protested this decision, pointing at its two-decade tenure in the UK market, and partnerships with major fixed-line and wireless carriers like BT, Three, and EE. It regards the US sanctions as politically motivated rather than based on a substantive and proven national security risk.

To fill the Huawei-shaped hole in the UK telecoms supplier market, the ministry is examining new diversification measures, bolstered by an initial funding of £250m. Part of these funds will be used to commence a trial of OpenRAN technology in partnership with NEC.

The RAN (radio access network) is the element in a wireless network that connects devices. OpenRAN is an attempt to build these components using a set of common, interoperable standards, allowing carriers to mix-and-match suppliers.

The NEC NeutrORAN project will aim to have 5G OpenRAN used within the UK by next year, with the first trials planned to take place in Wales. This will coincide with LTE OpenRAN deployments planned by Vodafone, which will see the firm's Huawei estate in the southeast of England and Wales replaced with new vendor-neutral infrastructure over the course of the next three years.

Separately, the ministry has announced funding for new testing and R&D efforts. One facility, SmartRAN Open Network Innovation Centre (SONIC, because it's not just Americans who like tenuous acronyms), will provide a testing playground for new OpenRAN kit, and will be operated in partnership with UK comms regulator Ofcom and Digital Catapult.

Meanwhile, the National Telecoms Lab will allow operators, suppliers, and academia to look at ways to improve security and interoperability by creating and testing "representative networks."

In a statement, Lord Livingston, chair of the UK's telecoms Diversification Task Force, said: "Diversification of the UK Telecoms Supply Chain is very important to ensure that our future networks are secure and resilient and that we can maximise the economic and social potential that 5G brings.

"As Chair of the Telecoms Diversification Taskforce, I fully support the ambition of the strategy and its objectives. In order to position ourselves at the forefront of the next generation of technology, it is vital that we invest in Research & Development, help shape global standards and work closely with our international partners." ®

* Commonly known as the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS)

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