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UK reportedly aims to drop Huawei from 5G networks in 3 years

Jon Fingas
Associate Editor
A photograph shows the logo of Chinese company Huawei at their main UK offices in Reading, west of London, on January 28, 2020. - Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce a strategic decision on January 28, on the participation of the controversial Chinese company Huawei in the UK's 5G network, at the risk of angering his US allies a few days before Brexit. (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images)

The UK’s decision to allow Huawei gear in its 5G networks may be short-lived. Officials talking to the Financial Times (via The Verge) say the UK government is planning to gradually phase out use of Huawei equipment in 5G networks, eliminating it entirely in 2023. According to the Daily Telegraph, which first broke the story, Prime Minister Boris Johnson always had “serious concerns” about allowing Huawei’s involvement, and they’ve been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Huawei’s Victor Zhang told the FT that the reports “simply don’t make sense” and argued that the UK chose to allow Huawei because it needed the “best possible technologies, more choice, innovation and more suppliers.”

Such a move would please the current US government, which has insisted that Huawei could serve as a conduit for Chinese surveillance. However, it could also prove to be a serious headache for both UK telecoms and the government. BT, for instance, estimated the cost of honoring the existing 35 percent cap on Huawei would cost about £500 million. It might cost more to drop Huawei entirely, and there are concerns the effort involved could stall the UK’s plans to bring fiber internet access to every home. Whether or not that’s ultimately the case, Huawei clearly can’t expect to play a large role in key Western 5G rollouts.