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UK in search of Huawei 5G replacements – report

Geopolitics, combined with plain-old domestic politics, are making Huawei's chances of supplying 5G equipment in the UK appear slimmer by the day.

According to a Bloomberg source, "UK officials" spoke with Japanese supplier NEC last month about diversifying the 5G supply chain. South Korea's Samsung is also apparently on the UK's 5G radar.

Officials have reportedly been ordered to draw up plans to phase out the Chinese company's involvement in UK 5G networks by 2023. As such, the UK government is looking to other companies that might help fill the gap.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson may well be quietly pleased about how things are panning out.

In January, Johnson upset President Donald Trump when he allowed Huawei to supply parts of 5G infrastructure in the UK.

Trump has long insisted that "backdoors" in Huawei 5G equipment pose a threat to national security – something which the Chinese supplier strenuously denies – and urged American allies to throw a blanket 5G ban on the Shenzhen-based firm.

Moreover, since his "pro-Huawei" decision, Johnson has gotten flak from "backbenchers" in his own Conservative Party.

Anti-Chinese feeling within "Tory" ranks subsequently increased over alleged shortcomings by Beijing in the initial handling of the coronavirus outbreak. Perceived heavy-handedness in the way China has cracked down on protesters in Hong Kong, as they strive to preserve autonomy from the mainland, has likewise hardened Sino-UK relations.

To cynical minds, COVID-19 and Hong Kong give Johnson the political cover he needs to pull the 5G plug on Huawei, so assuaging critics in his own party and getting America back onside (a useful post-Brexit ally in terms of trade deals).

Huawei's loss may well be NEC's and Samsung's gain, but it also gets Johnson out of a tight political corner.

— Ken Wieland, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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