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UK launches new telecom strategy to tackle Huawei dominance

LONDON: Telecom companies must stop installing Huawei equipment in the UK’s 5G mobile networks from September 2021, the government said on Monday as it launched a new persification strategy for the complete removal of “high-risk” vendor equipment from the country’s next generation telecom infrastructure.

The GBP 250-million ‘5G Diversification Strategy’ aims at ‘zero’ use of such material by 2027. It is timed with the new Telecommunications (Security) Bill coming up for its second reading in Parliament this week and follows an announcement that operators should stop procuring new Huawei equipment from the end of this year in the wake of US sanctions against the Chinese telecom giant earlier in the year.

“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,” said UK Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden.

“We are also publishing a new strategy to make sure we are never again dependent on a handful of telecom 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,” he said.

The September 2021 deadline is termed as an “important milestone” in the path mobile operators must take to get to zero Huawei in 5G networks. The new strategy says it will tackle the issues of “overreliance” on vendors and pave the way for better connectivity to improve people’s lives with “lightning fast connections speeds” and revolutionary data carrying capacity.

The new measures relating to Huawei are contained in an illustrative designated vendor direction for members of Parliament (MPs) to scrutinise.

The direction makes clear how ministers may use the bill’s powers to restrict the use of Huawei’s goods, services and facilities in 5G networks.

In January, the UK had decided that Huawei should be excluded from the core of the network and sensitive sites and restricted to up to 35 per cent of the radio access network – the part of the network that connects devices such as handsets to mobile phone masts.

The new legislation going through the Commons now would create national security powers capable of imposing controls on when – if at all – a telecoms firm could use material supplied by companies such as Huawei.

The UK’s new telecom strategy includes funding a new Open RAN trial with Japanese telecoms vendor NEC.

Open Radio Access Network (Open RAN) technology is a new way of building telecoms networks where components from different suppliers can be used in a single mobile network, specifically the radio access section – the part of the network that connects mobile phones to masts.

The NEC NeutrORAN project will be based in Wales and will aim to see live 5G Open RAN within the UK in 2021, testing solutions to deploy 5G networks in the “most cost effective, innovative and secure way”.

The plans also involve establishing a world-class National Telecoms Lab, a secure research facility that will bring together operators, existing and new suppliers, academia and the government to create representative networks in which to research and test new ways of increasing security and interoperability.

“The strategy sets out a long-term vision for a healthy supply market, which revolves around three key pillars: supporting incumbent suppliers, which will continue to be a major part of the UK market and help the UK meet its ambitious digital infrastructure plans; attracting new suppliers into the UK market; and accelerating open-interface and interoperable technologies such as Open RAN,” the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said.

“The strategy will also be an opportunity to secure the UK’s position as a global leader in science and technology and harness existing expertise and investment in SMEs and R&D initiatives to grow the telecoms base in the tech industry,” it said.

The UK government said it will be seeking to lead international efforts with like-minded countries on a coordinated approach to the global issue of telecoms supply chain consolidation.