Only One Clear Winner From UK's Huawei Ruling – China

It's now 24 hours since the UK government announced that Huawei could play an albeit restricted role in the UK's 5G and FTTP (fiber-to-the-premises) rollouts and the blowhards haven't quite yet run out of steam.

Senator Mitt Romney was quick off the mark:

And a former UK MP chimed in:

And the debate will continue, of course, especially on social media, where individuals rant and rave as if they are networking specialists who have been party to the detailed technical analysis of security tests conducted by seasoned experts, while citing Sony Ericsson (sic) as a key Huawei 5G infrastructure rival. Good times!

But what's the fallout going to be from BoJo & Co's Huawei ruling? My feeling is that the only clear winner is China, while the other key players in this drama will, at best, catch a glimpse of a silver lining. Here are my back-of-the-envelope thoughts:

  • Huawei: Despite it's public smile, this is a negative for the vendor, in multiple ways. Sure, it could have been worse, but that's also what you say when your sports team gets creamed and only loses 3-0. My expanded thoughts on why this adds up to bad news for Huawei can be found here.

  • The UK's mobile operators: It's a mixed bag. It's a nightmare for Three, which had decided Huawei was its go-to company for 5G radio access network gear but now faces having to meet a 35% limit on its use of the Chinese firm's 5G access gear. BT and Vodafone also have some new plans to draw up, which could come with considerable costs and aggravation. O2 UK is the only one that doesn't need to rethink its plans. Overall, the decision is negative because the cap is lower than expected and the timeframes for meeting targets are shorter than expected for those impacted. See this analysis for more.

  • UK government: Whatever it decided, it was going to get slammed. But by parking itself on the fence it has minimized the fallout. Both the US, which was lobbying hard for a full Huawei ban, and China, which didn't want restrictions, will say they're not happy and may even try to claw favors from the UK as a result, but the ramifications should not include trade wars or security relationship tremors. Even so, the UK government shouldn't expect Huawei to be its friend and it has some relationship repairing to do with the UK operators. It is fair to say the UK government has probably chosen the course of least friction, but that's not really a positive.

  • The US government: Didn't get what it wanted but, arguably, impacted the UK government's decision to be more aggressive against Huawei. It could be argued that it was snubbed by the UK, but that's taking it too far. The bigger picture, though, is that the US administration's anti-Huawei campaign has had an impact, though quite how this will benefit the US economy or US companies is baffling. As for the world being a more secure place if Huawei wasn't in any networks, well there is still no evidence to back that up, just noise. The case would not stack up in court.

  • Ericsson and Nokia: At first glance this look like it should benefit Huawei's two main rivals in the 5G RAN market, but the UK operators will now be ultra-sensitive to opportunistic pricing and trust issues could be raised. This will require some very cutesy client relationship building by these two companies if either is to benefit and come out the other end looking good.

  • OpenRAN proponents: More fuel for the marketing campaigns of companies such as Mavenir and Parallel Wireless, but they are unlikely to pick up any serious business in the UK as a result. Overall, though, this UK decision, and the impact it might have on similar decisions in other markets, could open the door wider down the road, once OpenRAN gear is truly carrier-grade and fit for Tier 1, fully loaded networks (which is some time off yet).

  • China: Of anyone, it's the winner. Huawei isn't completely banned from the UK but China can act hurt and seek to draw favors. It can cock a snook at the US. But the big positive for China, in my view, is that the focus is still on Huawei as a bad actor, as a stooge of the China government. And that will suit China, because, as a nation that is looking to snoop on everyone else and be able to undermine others -- which, let's face it, is something that every country is trying to do -- China is still attracting scrutiny because Chinese vendors are perceived as agents of the Chinese government. In all likelihood, the biggest threat posed by China's administration is not through the cipher of Chinese companies -- that would be a bit too obvious, right? Its undoubted underhand activities will probably not involve Chinese nationals or Chinese companies -- quite the opposite. Its best agents will be those that will be least suspected… the UK's decision is just perpetuating the perception that Chinese companies are the biggest likely security weapons of the Chinese administration, and I think that's a perception with which the Chinese government would be happy.

    — Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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