U.K.’s 5G Rollout In Trouble, According to Huawei and Others

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In July, the U.K. announced its decision to ban China’s Huawei equipment for the country’s 5G rollout plans. Now, according to a report by Assembly Research commissioned by Huawei, the U.K.’s decision will add expense and delay the project timeline, reported Telecoms. Some of the report’s findings, however, were given validity by Parliament’s Digital Secretary, Oliver Dowden, who predicted that the cumulative delay to the 5G rollout would be two to three years and cost operators up to £2B (US$2.59B). British Telecom (BT) has estimated that their costs alone would add up to £500M (US$647M).

“It is our national mission to futureproof the U.K.’s networks with revolutionary 5G technology. Thanks to government and industry action 5G is available in more than 70 towns and cities,” according to Matt Warman, U.K. Minister for Digital Infrastructure. “Alongside record amounts of funding, we are exploring how to bust any barriers holding back industry from speeding up rollout. We’ve committed to reforming planning law and to consult on whether further reforms to the Electronic Communications Code are needed and will consider the points raised in this report carefully.”  

A non-Huawei-sponsored report from the Centre for Policy Studies claimed that the delivery of 5G infrastructure is stalling. The report said the Electronic Communications Code is not working as intended. Pressure on the rollout is expected to increase with the phasing-out of Huawei from 5G infrastructure by 2027.

According to Matthew Howett, Principal Analyst and Founder of Assembly Research, “The government’s own expectation of its restrictions on Huawei is for up to a three-year delay in 5G rollout. The risk, of course, is that this will be felt by operators being forced to focus their deployments in more profitable urban centers, and that would inevitably mean it takes longer to reach and fully cover more rural and remote parts of Britain with 5G. If this plays out, there is a risk of a widened digital divide.”

The research also suggests that the U.K. will lose over $125 billion and the potential to create 350,000 jobs. There’s also a concern that technology advances will be delayed, including “remote healthcare, smart manufacturing, robotics, and at-home schooling,” according to Telecoms.  

Victor Zhang, Vice President of Huawei, commented, “The U.K. government has set ambitious targets for improved connectivity by 2025. This research reveals how a three-year delay in 5G roll-out will have a significant economic impact on every part of the UK and highlights the consequences of failing to realize Britain’s full potential. Without global 5G leadership, Britain faces relegation to the digital slow lane, a job creation black hole, and a wider digital divide.”

However, some professionals disagree with Zhang’s account. In August, a poll of 3,000 experts conducted by The Chartered Institute for IT found that over half said they do not believe Huawei’s claim that its ban will harm the country’s digital prospects and push up bills, reported Telecoms. In addition, those surveyed “believe the removal of Huawei’s equipment from national mobile and broadband networks will improve the U.K.’s security.”

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