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Huawei ban could lead to mobile phone blackouts, MPs warned | Science & Tech News

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There could be mobile phone blackouts across the UK if the government forces phone companies to strip Huawei out of their networks, MPs have been told.

BT and Vodafone executives today warned parliament that if the government forced them to completely remove Huawei’s equipment from their networks suddenly, it would cost billions of pounds and lead to customers losing phone signal for several days.

The science and technology committee hearing follows reports that the government is set to order the phasing out of the Chinese company’s technology from the UK’s networks due to security concerns.

The UK is reassessing its previous decision to allow Huawei equipment a limited role within the country’s 5G networks following new sanctions imposed by the US government.

“If the current guidance were to be tightened and further restrictions were to be imposed, we would need to spend in the order of billions to change our current infrastructure,” said Andrea Dona, the head of networks for Vodafone UK.

Mr Dona said that a “five-year transition plan” would be the minimum that the company could work with to avoid this impact on customers.

BT’s chief technology and information officer, Howard Watson said it was “logically impossible” to remove all of the Huawei equipment from the company’s networks within a three year period.

“That would literally mean blackouts for customers on 4G and 2G, as well as 5G, throughout the country as we were to build that in. So we would definitely not recommend that we go down that route.”



huawei logo and building



UK set to cut Huawei out of 5G network

In May the US announced an expansion on restrictions targeting the company which would prevent computer chips based on American designs from being used in any of its equipment.

The deeply damaging measures threaten to cut off Huawei’s supply of semiconductors used across its product lines, from radio base stations to servers and smartphones.

This could lead to the company beginning to use “untrusted” replacement technologies within these products, increasing the risk the technology introduces to critical national infrastructure.

The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre, which had said it was capable of managing the risks that using the Chinese equipment could pose – as long as it was not used in the core of the network, and had less than 35% of the market share – is now re-evaluating that stance as a result.

“If the current guidance were to be tightened and further restrictions were to be imposed, we would need to spend in the order of billions to change our current infrastructure,” said Andrea Dona, the head of networks for Vodafone UK.

Mr Dona said that a “five-year transition plan” would be the minimum that the company could work with to avoid this impact on customers.

Exterior of the National Cyber Security Centre in central London
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NCSC has reassessed the risk posed by Huawei equipment

Earlier this week in a phone call with Sky News, Huawei also stressed the need for time.

The company’s vice president Victor Zhang said that it would take a while for Huawei to understand the implications of the new restrictions, and could not respond to concerns about the inclusion of “untrusted” technology within its own equipment.

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