Small towns and rural areas across the UK will be the most affected by delays of up to three years in the introduction of 5G mobile technology, experts warned after ministers announced that Huawei would be taken off the network by 2027.
The total cost to the economy could also exceed £ 7 billion, according to researchers analyzing the potential cost of eliminating the Chinese equipment supplier in response to U.S. sanctions and the pressure of around 60 rebellious Tory MPs.
It comes after Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, made a U-turn on Huawei’s role in 5G networks on Tuesday. He received criticism from China and praise from the United States that the company was a threat to national security.
China’s ambassador to the UK described the decision as “disappointing and wrong”. Liu Xiaoming tweeted: “It has become questionable whether the UK can offer companies from other countries an open, fair and non-discriminatory business environment.”
Donald Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, who is in Europe this week, said: “The reported British action reflects a growing international consensus that Huawei and other untrustworthy providers pose a threat to national security as they Communist Party still committed to the Chinese. “
Earlier, Dowden surprised MPs when he announced that the decision to remove Huawei would mean “a cumulative delay in the introduction of 5G by two to three years” across the country.
Some believe that what he said was a warning shot for conservative rebels who said they were still unsatisfied and wanted Boris Johnson to continue by removing all Huawei kits, including old 2G, 3G, and 4G networks .
Matthew Howett, founder of the assembly research firm, warned that “cellular operators have so far selected the major urban areas to use 5G, but changing the rules will now cause delays for the rest of the country.”
Earlier investigations by the assembly on behalf of the telecommunications companies BT, Vodafone, O2 and Three concluded that Britain would suffer an economic blow of £ 6.8bn if it did not use 5G and was at risk of to fall behind continental Europe.
“We also thought it would throw Britain back 18 to 24 months, but Dowden went further and said it would be three years,” Howett added. “Wherever the coverage is already bad, you have to wait longer now.”
However, BT said that despite “logistical and cost implications,” it could continue to operate “without material impact on previously announced schedules.”
Dowden said it would cost cellphone companies an additional £ 2 billion. A source from one of the major operators added that this would inevitably affect the already fragile economics of rural communications.
The minister responded to a Trump White House decision in May to ban Huawei from using American microchips, which meant that the UK could no longer be certain that the Chinese company’s technology was not a security risk.
One Whitehall official described the US sanctions as a “game changer,” while another said Britain was surprised at how draconian they were. “This was at the more difficult end of expectations,” they said.
The prime minister has been involved in an intense geopolitical dispute over Huawei in which Trump has asked to drive the Chinese company out of the UK, claiming it poses a long-term security risk.
Huawei denies ever being asked to spy on behalf of the Chinese state, while Beijing says Johnson’s decision will be a tough test of Sino-British relations that have developed under David Cameron.
Huawei has long been considered a potential security risk due to its Chinese origins, although the company itself says it is a company owned by its employees and independent of Beijing. But so far, the British spy agencies have come to the conclusion that there is nothing to be seriously concerned about.
The decision is a reversal from the previous policy, which allows Huawei to deliver 35% of UK 5G devices, and a compromise with BT and Vodafone, who have warned that phone failures could occur if forced earlier to act.
But a group of conservative rebels who say they are around 60 – theoretically enough to defeat the government – want the Chinese company to be wiped out more by 2026 at the latest. Huawei is already banned for 5G devices in the United States and Australia.
Iain Duncan Smith said there were contradictions in Dowden’s statement. “So if there are risks in 5G, why are they generally not a risk for us,” the former party leader told the Commons, calling on the minister to “ban Huawei altogether.”
In response, the culture secretary said, “The reality of the 5G network is that it is fundamentally different,” adding that “5G will be replaced by 6G and all Huawei will be missing.”
In the same debate, the minister also said that Britain would be on an “irreversible path” to eliminate “high-risk providers” like Huawei in 5G by the next general election in 2024 to reassure some MPs.
However, the rebels said they would try to change the law to enforce the Huawei 5G ban when it faces parliament next fall – and are considering adding changes to other related bills to achieve the same result.
A rebel source added: “The fight is open again. The Telecommunications Infrastructure Act is amended to ban 3G and 4G on the same basis as 5G and bring the end date for devices forward. We are confident that they will be successful. “
Downing Street had asked the National Cyber Security Center, part of the spy agency GCHQ, to check Huawei’s security. The experts concluded that its equipment cannot be considered safe if it relies on components outside the United States.
Huawei UK asked the government to rethink this, saying that Britain would be economically damaged if it progressed.
Ed Brewster, a spokesman for the company, said: “This disappointing decision is bad news for anyone in the UK who owns a mobile phone. It threatens to put Britain on the digital slow lane, raise bills and deepen the digital divide. “
Officials also want Huawei to be removed from high-speed full-fiber connections after a two-year transition period, and are working with companies to find a way to eliminate the Chinese company’s devices.
No compensation is expected from BT, Vodafone or Huawei.
A few minutes before Tuesday’s announcement, Huawei said former BP chief Lord Browne will step down as chairman of the board of directors in September. Browne, who held the office for five years, did not say he would quit, but the company thanked him for “his valuable contribution.”