The UK government will establish a task force to find alternative telecoms suppliers after Huawei’s ban from the country’s 5G network.
The diversification task force will be headed by former BT CEO Ian Livingston. The Glasgow-born Conservative peer will lead a group of senior telecoms executives and academics. The group will provide advice and an industry perspective to help guide the country’s 5G strategy.
This will help boost competition and innovation in the UK market by building an open, sustainable and diverse telecoms supply chain.
To diversify the UK’s telecoms supply chain, the task force’s aims include finding ways to attract new vendors to the country’s pool of suppliers.
As such, the government is in discussions with a range of large and small vendors about how it can support them to enter the market and accelerate diversification.
The 5G task force will also look at ways to develop the capability of the UK’s telecoms sector. It will explore how to incentivise research and development in the sector, including accelerating the development of open and interoperable equipment which can be used by multiple vendors, such as OpenRAN.
The government said that it is working with its international allies to develop solutions that will result in lasting change in the global telecoms market, and secure the UK’s position as a world leader in 5G networks.
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In July, the UK Government decided to ban and remove Huawei equipment from the country’s 5G network by 2027, citing national security concerns.
The move came on the back of deteriorating relationships between China and the West, with tensions rising between the UK and Beijing over Hong Kong.
UK mobile networks will be unable to buy 5G kits from Huawei starting in 2021, leaving the country with just two suppliers – Ericsson and Nokia.
Relying on a small pool of suppliers bring its own security risks for Britain, the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) noted.
With NCSC dictating that mobile networks use at least two manufacturers to provide radio antennas in their network, all purchases will have to go through Nokia and Ericsson.
Lord Livingston said: “The UK is already a leading nation in the adoption and use of digital communications.
“It is vital that we position ourselves for the next generation of technology, particularly 5G, by having a wide choice of secure, innovative and high-quality suppliers.
“I look forward to chairing this team of experts from industry and academia who can provide advice to government as to how it can best achieve these aims.”
Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “To deliver the revolutionary benefits of 5G networks for people and businesses, we need to be confident in their security and resilience. A more diverse supply chain is essential to reducing our dependence on individual suppliers and improving telecoms security – as well as a great economic opportunity for the UK.
“Under Lord Livingston’s leadership, this task force will use industry expertise to turbocharge the delivery of our Diversification Strategy. Together we will push ahead with bold ideas to break through the barriers stopping suppliers from entering the UK and put us at the forefront of innovative new mobile technologies.”
The UK government will publish its telecoms diversification strategy later this year “to address a market failure where mobile companies are limited to using just three major suppliers in their telecoms networks”.
Alongside the diversification strategy, the government will introduce the Telecoms Security Bill to give new powers to the government to control the presence of high-risk equipment vendors, and to Ofcom to drive up security standards.