The government will ban Huawei 5G equipment outright from December 31 2020 and all existing equipment must be removed from 5G networks within seven years.
The decision, announced today, is a major volte face after a January agreement to limit the Chinese telecommunications vendor to a minority presence of 35 percent in the “periphery of the network” and restrict it from critical national infrastructure.
The decision follows “new advice produced by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) on the impact of US sanctions against the telecommunications vendor.”
The NCSC said that updated May 15 2020 sanctions by the US — which added two new restrictions to the Foreign-Produced Direct Product Rule (the FDPRA) — rendered it impossible to mitigate the risk of falling foul of the sanctions.
The two new rules banned “transfer to Huawei entities of any items that are both produced by manufacturing equipment that is the ‘direct product’ of controlled US technology or software, and where Huawei has been involved in the design.
So while Huawei had swapped out US components for chips built by its own HiSilicon subsidiary after initial 2019 sanctions, even these were now targeted owing the vaguely defined new ruling, which has seen Taiwanese chip foundry TSMC forced to stop making chips for Huawei, as its production lines include US intellectual property.
The move follows sustained pressure from the US over the issue. US political figures had described the UK’s January 28 decision as a “defeat” for the United States.
The NCSC’s outgoing director last year suggested that security risks could be contained, saying: “Last year, the NCSC publicly attributed attacks… [on] telecoms networks, to Russia… Those networks didn’t have any Russian kit in them, anywhere”.
Ciaran Martin added bluntly at the CYBERSEC 2019: “If you’ve built a telecommunications network in a way that the compromise of one supplier can cause catastrophic national harm, then you’ve built it the wrong way.”
The decision was taken today in a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) chaired by the Prime Minister, in response to new US sanctions.
“Technical experts at the NCSC reviewed the consequences of the sanctions and concluded the company will need to do a major reconfiguration of its supply chain as it will no longer have access to the technology on which it currently relies and there are no alternatives which we have sufficient confidence in” a government statement notes.
The US action also affects Huawei products used in the UK’s full fibre broadband networks: “We are advising full fibre operators to transition away from purchasing new Huawei equipment. A technical consultation will determine the transition timetable, but we expect this period to last no longer than two years.”
The government will now seek to legislate with a new Telecoms Security Bill to put in place powers to implement this new framework.
Ed Brewster, a spokesperson for Huawei UK, said: “This disappointing decision is bad news for anyone in the UK with a mobile phone.
“It threatens to move Britain into the digital slow lane, push up bills and deepen the digital divide. Instead of ‘levelling up’ the government is levelling down and we urge them 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.
“Regrettably our future in the UK has become politicized, this is about US trade policy and not security. Over the past 20 years, Huawei has focused on building a better connected UK. As a responsible business, we will continue to support our customers as we have always done. We will conduct a detailed review of what today’s announcement means for our business here and will work with the UK government to explain how we can continue to contribute to a better connected Britain.”