The government has decided to set the end of September 2021 as the final deadline for UK telecom operators to stop installing any Huawei equipment in 5G networks while also deciding to invest £250 million to establish and diversify the supply chain for telecom networks.
During the second parliamentary reading of the freshly-unveiled Telecommunications (Security) Bill that will strengthen the security framework for technology used in 5G and full fibre networks, Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden has announced that UK telecom operators have until September 2021 to remove all Huawei equipment in 5G networks.
"Today I am setting out a clear path for the complete removal of high-risk vendors from our 5G networks. This will be done through new and unprecedented powers to identify and ban telecoms equipment which poses a threat to our national security," Dowden said.
The "new and unprecedented powers" will arrive in the form of the Telecoms Security Bill that will give the government enhanced powers to direct and force telecom operators to immediately stop using technology and equipment supplied by high-risk vendors, failing which the operators will be fined either up to ten percent of turnover or, in the case of a continuing contravention, £100,000 per day.
“We are investing billions to roll out 5G and gigabit broadband across the country, but the benefits can only be realised if we have full confidence in the security and resilience of our networks. This groundbreaking bill will give the UK one of the toughest telecoms security regimes in the world and allow us to take the action necessary to protect our networks,” Downden said when the Bill was tabled last week.
The Telecommunications (Security) Bill will also allow the government to issue specific security requirements that telecom providers will need to follow, and will also give Ofcom stronger powers to monitor and assess operators’ security, alongside enforcing compliance with the new law. This will include carrying out technical testing, interviewing staff, and entering operators’ premises to view equipment and documents.
According to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, the introduction of the Telecoms Security Bill and the decision to "get to zero Huawei in 5G networks" by September next year will enable ministers to use the Bill’s powers to restrict the use of Huawei’s goods, services and facilities in 5G networks and brings together all the government’s previous announcements on Huawei.
New Diversification Strategy to help create a robust supply chain for telecoms
The government has also laid out a new Diversification Strategy to mitigate the resilience risks to 5G networks ahead of the 2027 deadline. The new strategy will kick off work to create a more diverse, competitive, and innovative supply market for telecoms in order to increase the quality, security, and resilience of the new 5G mobile networks.
The government said it will invest an initial £250 million as part of the Diversification Strategy to fund a new Open RAN trial with Japanese telecoms vendor NEC in Wales, establish a world-class National Telecoms Lab, and fund the SmartRAN Open Network Innovation Centre (SONIC), an industry-facing testing facility to foster Open RAN in the UK helping to develop a supply chain with multiple suppliers at every stage.
"The strategy sets out a long-term vision for a healthy supply market, which revolves around three key pillars: supporting incumbent suppliers, which will continue to be a major part of the UK market and help the UK meet its ambitious digital infrastructure plans; attracting new suppliers into the UK market; and accelerating open-interface and interoperable technologies such as Open RAN.
"The strategy will also be an opportunity to secure the UK’s position as a global leader in science and technology and harness existing expertise and investment in SMEs and R&D initiatives to grow the telecoms base in the tech industry," DCMS said.
The Diversification Strategy will also enable the government to plan the phasing out of old 2G and 3G networks that are now over 15 years old and the equipment that supports them are now offered by just a handful of suppliers. The phasing out of these technologies will help modernise UK telecom networks and will also open up opportunities for new suppliers.