Since tougher US sanctions were announced against Huawei in May, which effectively chokes off the Chinese supplier's semiconductor production capacity from September, the chances of it having a long-term future in UK telecoms infrastructure have looked slimmer by the day. Some worry that it would be more difficult to vet any Chinese-made semiconductors used by the company.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is widely expected to announce this week much tougher 5G restrictions on Huawei – if not an outright ban – along with giving notice to operators about how long they'll have to reduce dependence on the Shenzhen-headquartered company.
BT CEO Philip Jansen has warned it would need at least five years, but preferably seven, to remove and replace Huawei kit. Otherwise, he claims, a too-swift replacement process carries the risk of network outrages and compromises in security.
According to the Financial Times, government preparations are in full swing for a non-Huawei future.
UK officials have apparently stepped up efforts to persuade "Five Eyes" security partners – Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US – to collaborate on finding alternatives to Huawei as a 5G supplier.
Another avenue being explored is a so-called "D10" group of nations, comprising G7 countries plus India, South Korea and Japan. The purpose of D10, reports the Financial Times, would be to pool investment, procurement and research resources in order to "fast-track" Huawei's rivals.
Ominously for Huawei, one US official warned that the UK must take a tougher line if Washington was to get involved in a D10 setup.
Johnson in a spin
The latest developments are a far cry from January when Johnson allowed Huawei to supply 5G RAN equipment (albeit limited to a 35% market share).
By May, when the US announced tougher sanctions – which prompted the UK's National Cyber Security Centre to conduct an "emergency review" of the supplier – The Telegraph reported that Johnson had made a dramatic U-turn. Officials were apparently instructed to draw up a plan to phase out Huawei from UK networks by 2023. Johnson now talks to reporters about "hostile vendors."
One reason for Johnson's Huawei turnaround is undoubtedly to address unrest in sizable parts of the Conservative Party (which he leads), as Sino-UK relations become ever more strained by Beijing's perceived heavy handedness in dealing with Hong Kong, a former UK territory.
— Ken Wieland, contributing editor, special to Light Reading