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Telecoms firms call for target on pulling out Huawei kit to be eased

Michael Cogley
·2-min read
Telcos may look to ease 2023 targets - Justin Tallis/AFP
Telcos may look to ease 2023 targets - Justin Tallis/AFP

Britain’s telecom companies may push the Government to scrap its initial targets to strip most Huawei kit from their networks by 2023 if tighter restrictions on the Chinese giant are announced this week.

In January, the Government told providers that Huawei kit could only be used in the “non-core” elements of the 5G network and that there would be a 35pc cap on its use in the wider network by 2023.

On Tuesday, the Government is expected to announce a total ban on all Huawei gear in Britain’s 5G network. Secretary of State Oliver Dowden is expected to tell networks to remove all of the Chinese firm’s equipment from their networks by 2025.

If that is the case, big networks like Vodafone, Three, O2 and BT, are expected to urge the Government to drop its original targets set in January.

“There are sensible ways of ripping out network equipment and there are less sensible ways of ripping out network equipment,” an industry source said.“Longer timescales have a bunch of benefits, it means we can do more sensible network planning that allows us to replace kit in cell towers while maintaining service in the area.”

The remarks follow warnings that an accelerated programme to rip out Huawei gear, which is heavily embedded in the UK’s telecom system especially by BT, could potentially cause blackouts and problems with service.

If the 2023 deadline was dropped customers would be hit with “fewer disruptions but arrive at the same end point”.

The source said that compensation from the state to the network providers “made sense” and that it could take the form of reduced pricing at auctions for part of the state’s 5G spectrum.

On Sunday, former MI6 chief Richard Dearlove said there was “close linkage” between Huawei and the Chinese military.

“I think the relationship between the Chinese state and Huawei is absolutely clear cut,” he said.

“Huawei is not an ordinary international telecommunications company, it’s an intimate part of the Chinese state.”

The Chinese tech giant, which has always rebuffed any such claims, refuted the former security chief’s views.

“Huawei is a private company, 100pc owned by its employees and has no links to the Chinese military,” a spokesman said.

Mr Dearlove’s comments came ahead of a meeting of the National Security Council on Tuesday. The Government’s more aggressive actions against Huawei are expected to be announced afterwards.

It was reported at the weekend that Huawei was seeking a last-minute meeting with the Government before the new measures were announced. However no such meeting is expected.

Last week, BT and Vodafone warned of widespread mobile phone blackouts unless they were given at least five years to strip out Huawei from their networks.

Vodafone said that removing the equipment was likely to cost “single-figure billions”, while BT put its cost of complying to around £500m.