Chinese tech titan Huawei is to be banned from supplying new kit to Britain’s 5G network from the end of the year.
The decision is a major U-turn by Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The National Security Council (NSC) also ruled that existing Huawei equipment must be stripped from 5G networks by 2027. Some rebellious Conservative MPs had demanded a quicker timetable.
A spokesman for Huawei said: “This disappointing decision is bad news for anyone in the UK with a mobile phone. It threatens to move Britain into the digital slow lane, push up bills and deepen the digital divide. Instead of ‘levelling up’ the government is levelling down and we urge them to reconsider. We remain confident that the new US restrictions would not have affected the resilience or security of the products we supply to the UK. Regrettably, our future in the UK has become politicized, this is about US trade policy and not security. Over the past 20 years, Huawei has focused on building a better-connected UK. As a responsible business, we will continue to support our customers as we have always done. We will conduct a detailed review of what today’s announcement means for our business here and will work with the UK government to explain how we can continue to contribute to a better-connected Britain.”
Britain’s NSC is made up of senior ministers and security chiefs. The group decided recent restrictions by America on Huawei meant the company’s equipment could no longer be trusted in the UK’s 5G network. The US stopped Huawei from using its components, forcing it to look for other “less trusted” parts.
That move alone won the day for an aggressive “no to Huawei” campaign led by President Trump. He will see the reversal as a significant victory for him and America. For months, Washington has been putting relentless pressure on Johnson to quit Huawei for security reasons.
America’s latest sanctions would stop Huawei using US-made chips in its equipment. The company would need to rely on home-made micro-chips, and UK intelligence chiefs felt they could no longer be confident that new kit was secure.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said the Huawei ban could delay the full rollout of 5G networks in Britain by two years. It could also cost more than £2 billion.
Johnson has also been under pressure from his own backbench MPs. Enough supported a ban on Huawei to cost the PM a vote in the House despite an 80-seat majority. Earlier Liu Xiaoming, China’s ambassador to the UK, said Britain’s decisions were being scrutinized. They believe the UK cannot run its foreign policy independently of the US.
He said: “The China business community are all watching how you handle Huawei. If you get rid of Huawei it sends out a very bad message to other Chinese businesses. We want to be your friend. We want to be your partner. But if you want to make China a hostile country, you will have to bear the consequences.”
Independent pandemic review panel critical of China and WHO delays
An independent panel said on Monday (18 January) that Chinese officials could have applied public health measures more forcefully in January to curb the initial COVID-19 outbreak, and criticized the World Health Organization (WHO) for not declaring an international emergency until 30 January, writes Stephanie Nebehay.
The experts reviewing the global handling of the pandemic, led by former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, called for reforms to the Geneva-based United Nations agency.Their interim report was published hours after the WHO’s top emergency expert, Mike Ryan, said that global deaths from COVID-19 were expected to top 100,000 per week “very soon”.
“What is clear to the Panel is that public health measures could have been applied more forcefully by local and national health authorities in China in January,” the report said, referring to the initial outbreak of the new disease in the central city of Wuhan, in Hubei province.
As evidence emerged of human-to-human transmission, “in far too many countries, this signal was ignored”, it added.
Specifically, it questioned why the WHO’s Emergency Committee did not meet until the third week of January and did not declare an international emergency until its second meeting on Jan. 30.
“Although the term pandemic is neither used nor defined in the International Health Regulations (2005), its use does serve to focus attention on the gravity of a health event. It was not until 11 March that WHO used the term,” the report said.
“The global pandemic alert system is not fit for purpose,” it said. “The World Health Organization has been underpowered to do the job.”
Under President Donald Trump, the United States has accused the WHO of being “China-centric”, which the agency denies. European countries led by France and Germany have pushed for addressing the WHO’s shortcomings on funding, governance and legal powers.
The panel called for a “global reset” and said that it would make recommendations in a final report to health ministers from the WHO’s 194 member states in May.
Sweden begins 5G auction despite Huawei protests
Sweden’s communications regulator began its delayed auction of 5G-suitable frequencies, a move Huawei warned last week would have serious consequences as the vendor still had outstanding legal action contesting its ban.
In a statement, the Swedish Post and Telecom Authority (PTS) said its auction for licences in the 3.5GHz band started today (19 January) with a 2.3GHz sale to follow. It is auctioning 320MHz of 3.5GHz spectrum and 80MHz of 2.3GHz.
Huawei has two other pieces of legal action on the issue outstanding.
In a comment to Mobile World Live issued on 15 January following the failure of its latest appeal, a Huawei representative confirmed its “two main” court cases on the issue were not expected to be ruled on until the end of April.
The company added: “It leads to serious consequences to hold the 5G auction while the conditions for PTS decisions are subject to legal review.”
Sweden’s spectrum auction was originally meant to take place in November 2020, but was postponed after a court suspended the application some of the divisive terms of sale pending a hearing into them.
PTS’ terms were subsequently cleared by the court of appeal, opening the way for the auction to proceeded.
The best of 5G is yet to come
Executives from leading mobile operators have urged consumers to be patient with 5G, explaining more advanced capabilities and use cases will become available as the technology evolves.
Speaking at the recent industry conference CES 2021, Drew Blackard, VP of product management at Samsung Electronics America (SEA), told a panel that many current services including video streaming are merely “better on 5G”.
But he added more advanced “only-on-5G experiences” will become mainstream “more and more as the infrastructure develops” and the technology becomes more widely used.
Blackard noted SEA had “done a lot of development with partners to build out what these can look like”, pointing to a collaboration with AT&T to offer AR experiences for sports fans.
Ice Mobility chairman and co-founder Denise Gibson added “there is an element of patience” to realising 5G’s potential.
She said 5G “is a platform that will evolve”, explaining “it’s not solely about” geographic reach, but also provision of advanced capabilities and services on networks and devices.
Blackard added “partnerships are obviously essential”, noting 5G required “a group, an industry to bring that forward. It’s not a single player that can do that”.
Commenting on the issue Abraham Lui, Huawei's Chief Representative to the EU Institutions, said "In Europe, the best of 5G is yet to come. As 5G deployment gathers pace across the continent, users will appreciate the benefits of this game-changing technology in the near future".
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