Brexit National Security

Johnson Moves Ahead With Huawei Ban At Great Cost

JM Ashby
Written by JM Ashby

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is moving ahead with his plans to not only ban Chinese-owned telecommunications giant Huawei from Britain's next generation or 5G network, his government has also mandated that Huawei's equipment be stripped out of the nation's existing network over the next seven years.

Johnson's government initially called on British telecoms to purge Huawei's equipment within three years, but industry officials testified that it would be physically impossibly to purge the grid that quickly. It will take between five and seven years and cost billions, they said.

But removing Huawei's equipment from what's already in the ground or on cellphone towers won't be the only thing that takes years and cost billions.

Banning Huawei from their 5G network means British businesses and consumers will be waiting much longer to access 5G than their neighbors in Europe will.

Reversing a January decision to allow Huawei to supply up to 35% of the non-core 5G network, Johnson banned British telecoms operators from buying any 5G equipment from Huawei by year-end and gave them seven years to rip out existing gear.

"This has not been an easy decision, but it is the right one for the UK telecoms networks, for our national security and our economy, both now and indeed in the long run," digital minister Oliver Dowden told parliament. [...]

The ban will delay the roll-out of 5G - cast as the nervous system of the future economy - by two to three years, and add costs of up to 2 billion pounds ($2.5 billion).

British officials have couched this decision in terms of "national security" and the economy, but it's difficult to see this as anything other than a nationalist or political decision. And it's ironic!

Banning Huawei does not mean British companies will fill the void. It's not as if British companies are standing by to manufacture the electronics that are used to build mobile data networks.

And that's what's ironic about saying this is in the best interests of the UK's economy while the kingdom barrels toward a no-deal "Brexit" from the European Union that could cut off free trade with Huawei's replacements.

Huawei's equipment will be replaced by Finland’s Nokia and Sweden's Ericsson brand; two companies based in European Union member states. Britain's hard, no-deal Brexit could very well mean that British telecoms will have to pay tariffs on the equipment that will replace the Huawei infrastructure that's already in place.

From Bloomberg:

It also turns Britain’s wireless radio equipment market into an effective duopoly of Finland’s Nokia Oyj and Ericsson AB of Sweden. The companies that run Britain’s communications infrastructure will be bracing for higher prices and will have little choice but to use both Nokia and Ericsson if they are to avoid becoming dangerously reliant on either vendor.

“In the short term, carriers can play one supplier off against the other,” said James Barford, an analyst at Enders Analysis. “But a medium- to long-term consequence of not having Huawei means less pricing tension in the market.” [...]

The two European suppliers have a further opportunity to entrench their position against newcomers as carriers will need to swap out some of their Huawei 4G gear for Nokia and Ericsson equipment before installing 5G.

Economically speaking, this is a farce, but I also find it hard to swallow the national security argument.

If Huawei's circuit boards and antennas are a threat to national security today, then they will be next year and always have been; not just seven years from now when the deadline for replacing it approaches.

British telecoms are being asked to purge old 2G and 3G equipment that has already been in place for a decade or longer. Huawei's equipment has been their all along and if it's a threat now, then it was also a threat when George W. Bush was still the American president.

When the economy and "national security" arguments make no sense, you're not left with much aside from the political and perhaps even the xenophobic. There has been some vague notion that this connected to China's treatment of Hong Kong, among other things, but that is ultimately political and if that's the reason it's being done we should be honest about it.

If other nations had designated Huawei as a critical threat to national security, I may be more inclined to believe it is, but European and Canadian officials have not followed the decisions of the Trump and Johnson regimes. At least not yet.

Virtually all of the world's rising tensions with China can be traced back to the Trump regime's trade war with China. Trump first imposed sanctions on Huawei in 2019 when he was reaching for more leverage to use against China in trade talks. British security officials say their decision to ban Huawei stems from Trump's decision to place the Chinese company on the Commerce Department's export control "blacklist."

The reason given for the about-turn was the impact of new U.S. sanctions on chip technology, which Britain's National Cyber Security Centre, part of the GCHQ eavesdropping agency, had told ministers meant Huawei was not a reliable supplier.

If you're relying on the word of the Trump regime for who is or is not a "reliable supplier" -- especially when sanctions are imposed under false pretense -- it makes me wonder about the efficacy of your entire clownshow operation.

  • muselet

    A delay in available 5G service is no great big deal. 4G is plenty fast enough for now. But deliberately and expensively delaying the roll-out of 5G for no obvious reason is curious at best.

    I doubt Boris Johnson knows 5G from Ice-T, and the government’s public comments are remarkably light on detail, so I wonder just where this decision came from. If GCHQ or MI-6 found the fabled backdoor in Huawei equipment, I’d have expected at least some hints to have been dropped.

    Weird.

    –alopecia