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UK starts to ponder how Huawei ban would work

Sanctions already in place, blockade set to be rolled into telecoms law

Updated The British government has started a consultation to find ways to legally remove the equipment of telecoms giant Huawei from its 5G networks by the end of 2027.

Proposals include asking full-fibre broadband operators to stop installing Huawei equipment affected by US sanctions. UK telecoms providers have already begun to remove Huawei from the UK's 5G networks following a government announcement in July 2020.

The US has retained its opposition to using the Chinese manufacturer's equipment in essential infrastructure. Although the policy began under controversial Republican president Donald Trump, it has survived the transition to Democrat Joe Biden, who signed The Secure Equipment Act on Thursday. In 2020, Trump extended his executive order banning US companies from using or buying telecoms equipment from Chinese manufacturers Huawei and ZTE.

In 2020, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport's Oliver Dowden said US sanctions on Huawei imposed had a "significant, material" change on the firm's ability to supply the UK market. He confirmed that the purchase of Huawei gear to build 5G networks would be outlawed, and from 2027 the country's mobile networks must eradicate the Chinese vendor's kit from their 5G infrastructure.

As the next step in this process, the new Telecommunications (Security) Act is consulting with industry to bring controls on Huawei onto a legal footing.

The act – which became law in November – gives the government the legal mechanism to restrict the use of what it deems high-risk vendor equipment in public networks where necessary and proportionate in the interests of national security. According to a government statement, new powers will be required to ensure UK mobile networks remain "safe and secure as 5G becomes progressively more embedded in our national infrastructure, industries and daily lives."

The legal instruments known as a "designated vendor direction" could require public telecoms providers to follow guidance regarding use of Huawei equipment and services while a "designation notice" could name Huawei as a high-risk vendor, the government said.

Huawei has always denied its gear contains backdoors or that it is beholden to the Chinese government.

Digital secretary Nadine Dorries said: "The government is committed to ensuring the security and resilience of our phone and internet networks. Last year we brought in new laws to protect UK infrastructure from high-risk vendors and issue tough sanctions on providers which fall short of our high security standards. This consultation marks the next step in removing the risks posed by Huawei."

The consultation is set to last for four weeks and is only open to public communications providers which would receive the direction, and Huawei, as the proposed designated vendor.

Under the direction, subject to the consultation, telecoms firm will be legally required to remove all Huawei equipment from 5G networks by the end of 2027. They should not install Huawei equipment in 5G networks, effective immediately upon the issuing of the final direction. Huawei equipment is set to be removed from the core of telecoms networks by 28 January 2023. ®

Updated to add:

Huawei has been in touch to say: "We note the government's consultation and will continue to support our UK customers with our network equipment, which is recognised as being among the most secure and trusted in the world.

"Political pressures have already forced the government to exclude Huawei from 5G, delaying its rollout by several years. These same pressures will jeopardise the rollout of fibre broadband, unnecessarily pushing up costs for businesses and families.

"The country has the right to expect decisions to be made based on facts rather than unfounded security concerns."

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