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UK bans Huawei from 5G network in U-turn; raising tensions with China

All existing Huawei gear to be removed by 2027; telcos to stop using Huawei in fixed-line broadband within 2 years

London

PRIME Minister Boris Johnson ordered Huawei equipment to be purged completely from Britain's 5G network by 2027, risking the ire of China by signalling that the world's biggest telecoms equipment maker is no longer welcome in the West.

The seven-year lag will please British telecoms operators such as BT, Vodafone and Three, which had feared they would be forced to spend billions of pounds to rip out Huawei equipment much faster. But it will delay the rollout of 5G.

The United States had long pushed Mr Johnson to reverse a decision he made in January to grant Huawei a limited role in 5G. London has also been dismayed by a crackdown in Hong Kong and the perception China did not tell the whole truth over the coronavirus.

Britain's National Security Council (NSC), chaired by Mr Johnson, decided on Tuesday to ban the purchase 5G components from the end of this year and to order the removal of all existing Huawei gear from the 5G network by 2027.

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The cyber arm of Britain's GCHQ eavesdropping agency, the National Cyber Security Centre, told ministers it could no longer guarantee the stable supply of Huawei gear after the United States imposed new sanctions on chip technology.

Telecoms companies will also be told to stop using Huawei in fixed-line fibre broadband within the next two years.

"This has not been an easy decision, but it is the right one for the UK telecoms networks, for our national security and our economy, both now and indeed in the long run," Britain's Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Oliver Dowden told parliament.

"By the time of the next election, we will have implemented in law, an irreversible path for the complete removal of Huawei equipment from our 5G networks."

Network equipment providers Ericsson and Nokia, Huawei's biggest competitors, said on Tuesday they were ready to step in after the UK announced it was phasing out the Chinese telecoms giant from its budding 5G network.

"We have the capacity and expertise to replace all of the Huawei equipment in the UK's networks at scale and speed," Nokia CEO for the UK and Ireland Cormac Whelan said in a statement.

Ericsson echoed that stance in a separate statement.

Huawei said Britain's "disappointing" decision to ban the use of its equipment in its 5G networks was "bad news for anyone in the UK with a mobile phone" and threatened to put the country into the digital slow lane.

It urged the government to reconsider.

"We remain confident that the new US restrictions would not have affected the resilience or security of the products we supply to the UK," a spokesman said.

In what some have compared to the Cold War antagonism with the Soviet Union, the United States is worried that 5G dominance is a milestone towards Chinese technological supremacy that could define the geopolitics of the 21st century.

With faster data and increased capacity, 5G will become the nervous system of the future economy - carrying data on everything from global financial flows to critical infrastructure such as energy, defence and transport. REUTERS, AFP

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