Does U.K.'s Huawei Ban Go Far Enough in Actually Banning the Company?

Telecoms giants in the U.K. could face fines of up to £100,000 ($133,000) a day, should they fail to meet targets for higher security requirements which are aimed at phasing out Huawei equipment from the country's 5G network.

The measures are part of a new Telecommunications Security Bill which aims to ban the involvement of Chinese firm Huawei. The bill is the first to enshrine the banning of the Chinese company's involvement in the UK's 5G network into law.

The government says that the bill will boost the security standards of the UK's telecoms networks and remove the threat of high-risk vendors. In July, after pressure from the Trump administration, the U.K. decided to ban the use of Huawei in 5G networks from the end of 2027 because of concerns that U.S. sanctions on chip technology meant the Chinese company would not be a reliable supplier and could also be used to carry out espionage on behalf of the Chinese state.

The U.K. government also banned mobile providers from buying new Huawei 5G equipment after December 31. U.K. Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said the benefits of 5G and fiber networks could only be realized if they were secure.

He said: "This groundbreaking bill will give the U.K. one of the toughest telecoms security regimes in the world and allow us to take the action necessary to protect our networks."

However, with equipment provided by Huawei already used for the core of British 3G networks and some parts of the 4G infrastructure, does this bill go far enough in ensuring all of Huawei's equipment is removed from British telecommunication networks and what wider impact will it have on 5G?

"5G doesn't matter all that much, it's marketing hype," Professor Ross Anderson, of the University of Cambridge, tells Newsweek. "At least in the first wave, it's just more of the same. 5G comes in two waves, essentially the first wave of 5G is just like 4G but with more masts placed more closely together and giving you higher bandwidth."

There has been no measures from the government, at least in public, about Huawei's involvement in 4G. It has made experts wonder about the reasons behind this "security" measure.

Huawei
In July the U.K. decided to ban the use of Huawei in 5G networks from the end of 2027 Getty

"This is about American pressure and about the fact that there's a shifting perception of China as a result of a number of factors," This is not something that is just Donald Trump, this is something that has been building in Washington and elsewhere for a while. The terrible things that are done to Muslims in Xinjang are part of it, the bad things that happen in Tibet and to Mongolians are also part of it as well as the increasing aggression of China in the south China sea."

The key thing, Prof Anderson says, is about what happens in this "first wave" of 5G and the second wave, where banning Huawei from the 5G network will, as Victor Zhang, Huawei's U.K. chief told the BBC, "seriously delay 5G in the country". As ever with these sort of situations, it depends.

"The second wave of 5G will change things but we're seeing an interesting tussle here which sidelines Huawei, because for the past 30-odd years there's been a huge struggle between phone companies and computer companies over who controls communication. We [computer companies] won, because the phone companies were just ancient and their technology was too far behind.

"The same thing is shaping up to happen again on 5G in that Japanese companies like Rakuten, for example, are pushing a more open set of standards on 5G which enable people to layer their next-generation networks on top using software and that's probably the way of the future and that probably sidelines much of Huawei's kit."

Jimmy Jones, Cyber Security Telecoms expert at Positive Technologies, thinks that the new security bill will make it harder for Huawei to establish a presence in the U.K. but that most of the damage has already been done.

He said: "While this legislation crystalizes the penalties and locks the government's advice in a legal framework, if it is aimed at Huawei then I think the damage had already been done. The uncertainty has meant mobile operators have already had to plan for the foreseeable future without Huawei and this just makes any reentry to the market even less likely for the company. What is really interesting here, is the law is establishing the operator's security responsibility beyond the exclusion of certain vendors, to network security as a whole."

Jones says that governments around the world have realized that the stakes are even higher for 5G which will connect more people than ever before and be the core infrastructure of connected cities, but thinks that any security flaws in 5G will also have to take into account flaws in previous generation networks, that 5G will exist alongside.

He said: "The new fines announced today for operators that are not meeting standards are another major financial incentive to get security in order. The security obligations - which include rules on who has access to sensitive parts of the "core" network, how security audits were conducted, and protecting customer data - will force operators to improve their security protection for the whole network rather than just 5G."