Telecoms firms have warned that bringing forward the date by which they must remove Huawei equipment from 5G networks risks significant service blackouts.
The warning came in response to questioning by Conservative MP Mark Francois during an evidence session for the Defence Sub-Committee with executives from BT and Vodafone.
Mr Francois suggested backbench MPs could seek to amend the bill dictating the timeframe for Huawei’s removal from 5G in the UK, and said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if the current cut-off date of 2027 was amended to 2023 “whether the Government likes it or not”.
Some Tory MPs have previously pressed for a “rip out” deadline for Huawei to be set before the next general election – due in 2024 – amid fears of a lobbying campaign by the firm to reverse the decision.
But BT’s chief technology officer Howard Watson warned against this approach, saying it would likely cause major signal problems for users.
“We will comply with the law, but we’ve been very clear that a 2023 date for complete removal would cause significant mobile network outages – 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G, and we think that is the wrong thing to do for the nation given the dependence that we’ve all found on our telecommunications networks through the time that we’ve been through in the last four or five months,” he said.
“So to rush this, we think, carries significant risk of blackouts across the country.”
Mr Francois then asked what the companies would say to those critics who suggest the industry is “crying wolf” on the issue, to which Mr Watson argued BT had provided clear evidence of the disruption such a fast turnaround of equipment would cause.
“What I would say to that is we provided the empirical evidence: number of sites, amount of time, amount of effort to close streets, bring in cranes, lift equipment to rooftops,” he said.
“We provided all of that in our evidence to the supply chain review on which that decision was based.”
Earlier this month, the Government decided to ban the Chinese firm from having a role in the country’s 5G network, owing to tougher US sanctions restricting Huawei’s ability to build chips.
The company was initially allowed a limited role within the non-core parts of the network capped at 35%, but security concerns brought on by the US move forced the Government to perform a major U-turn.
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