BT and Vodafone have said that their UK customers would face mobile phone signal failures if they had three years or less to remove Huawei equipment from their 5G networks.
The leaders of the network providers told MPs that they wanted at least five years, and ideally seven years, if such an order was made.
The government is expected to announce new restrictions on the use of the Chinese company’s kit in the next two weeks.
Huawei urged him to take more time.
“There is no burning bridge,” said British vice president Huawei Jeremy Thompson, adding that it was too early to determine the impact of the new US sanctions.
The company also denied claiming that it would someday act against the interests of its customers, even if requested by the Chinese government.
The Science and Technology Committee hearing represents a last chance for companies to present their arguments before the government before a decision is made.
In January, the government capped Huawei 5G’s market share, but decided that the suggested security risks by allowing the Chinese company to supply the country’s telecommunications providers could be managed.
Since then, however, Washington has announced new sanctions aimed at preventing the company from manufacturing its own chips.
As a result, Huawei must obtain chips from other companies to use them in its equipment.
The GCHQ National Cybersecurity Center has reportedly told the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sports that this means it can no longer ensure the security of Huawei’s products.
Although it now seems likely that the government will opt for some ban, the question is when it will come into effect.
Some conservative rearguard MPs are urging a deadline before the 2024 general election – and there has been speculation that it could be as early as 2023.
But Vodafone and BT – both of which use Huawei products in their networks – have said it would be extremely disruptive.
“To reach zero in a three-year period, it would literally mean blackouts for 4G and 2G customers, as well as 5G, across the country,” said Howard Watson, director of technology and information. from BT.
He explained that the logistics involved in setting up cranes and closing streets to replace masts, base stations and other Huawei equipment meant that the only way to meet the deadline would be to switch to multiple sites in one location. area at the same time.
3G signals would not be affected because the EE network uses the Nokia kit to provide this service.
Vodafone has made a similar case – it uses the Huawei kit in its 2G, 3G. 4G and 5G networks.
« [Customers] would lose their signal, sometimes for a few days, depending on the scale or intrusion of the work to be done, “said Andrea Dona, network manager at Vodafone UK.
“I would say that a transition period of five years would be the minimum”,
Watson added, “A minimum of five years, ideally seven.”
“A few more weeks”
Earlier in the hearing, Huawei argued that it was too early to decide on new restrictions.
Leaders said the U.S. has yet to confirm details of the sanctions, adding that it would then need time to see if it could mitigate the impact.
The company has built up inventories of chips and believes it could continue to supply equipment based on these chips for some time to come.
“We can supply our customers with their orders and support the existing network with spare parts,” said Mr. Thompson.
“And in terms of who is the alternative [chip] the suppliers are not only Chinese. There are European companies that are also in this space.
“We can share these [details] with you, but it will take a few more weeks. ”
A DCMS spokeswoman said she could not reveal whether the ministry had already delivered its recommendations to the Prime Minister.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is scheduled to call a meeting of the National Security Council in the coming days to discuss the possibility of a ban, which could also extend to the country’s broadband infrastructure.
Vodafone and BT’s warnings of customer disruption if Huawei is withdrawn quickly sounds loud – but, in fact, the two companies have softened their stance.
Last year, they seemed determined to fight any plans to exclude Huawei from the UK’s 5G networks.
Now they seem resigned to the fact that it will happen.
Indeed, BT accepts that the threatened American sanctions could mean that within a few years, it will not be able to obtain reliable Huawei equipment.
They are now focusing on the calendar – they want to make sure the government does not move as quickly as many Conservative backbenchers would like to remove the kit from Chinese companies.
They understand how the political climate has changed, but will warn ministers that disrupting mobile reception or abandoning the goal of providing gigabit broadband to everyone by 2025 would also be bad policy.