Yesterday it was announced by the UK government that the Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei could continue its participation in British 5G internet networks, albeit with a restricted market share of 35% and an exclusion from what constitutes the sensitive “core” gear. The decision came amid significant diplomat pressure from the United States for Downing Street to ban the company entirely, arguing that it was a security risk. British security officials were convinced that such a risk was manageable, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson criticized advocates of an outright ban as failing to provide an alternative, stating he wished the country to have “access to the best possible technology”.
In practice, the decision is a de-facto continuation of one made by Theresa May a year previously. As a result, many UK networks had effectively already gone ahead with using Huawei equipment in their networks having signed contracts with the firm, including BT, Vodafone, Three and EE. By the time Boris confirmed the decision, many networks had already been built throughout the country, not least of course in Sunderland which recently became the first city in Britain to offer free public 5G Wifi connectivity in the City Centre, with the networks having been built using Huawei kit. Had the company been banned, such a feat would not have been possible in the immediate future, and would have ultimately came at a much steeper cost.
Here is why:
If the United Kingdom was to move ahead with a Huawei ban, this would have had to involve a complete dismantlement and phase out of not only existing networks, but also 4G networks as well, which also used Huawei. Estimates placed this move at a high cost, totaling an estimated £5 billion. This would have also in turn removed the most effective and price competitive player from the market, not only reducing the options overall but setting up the cost of rival firms Ericsson and Nokia. These combined factors would have also delayed the country’s 5G rollout by an estimated 18-24 months, setting it behind the majority countries in the world where the Chinese firm participates.
In doing so, Huawei may be subject to scrutiny from American politicians, but it nevertheless holds the world’s largest number of verifiable 5G patents, leaving its competitors trailing. As of October last year it specified it had over 65 commercial 5G contracts worldwide, with roughly half based in Europe. Italy, Spain, Portugal, France and Ireland are amongst the countries who have embraced the Chinese firm, shrugging off U.S warnings against it, as well as attempts to stifle the company by blacklisting it from American markets.
Thus, whilst scepticism of the firm’s participation is still out for many in the United Kingdom, there can be little doubt that the government recognized the benefits of its participation and accordingly, the city of Sunderland has clearly benefited from these developments, accelerating the council’s bid to transform it into a modern, digitally connected and innovative city. State of the art Chinese technology is a good thing, and as the government notes the burden lies upon critics to innovate and invest in alternatives. Until then, Huawei the lads!