In February, a group of Conservative politicians in the UK began a campaign for a “meaningful debate” in Parliament over Huawei’s involvement in 5G. David Davis MP was one of the most outspoken critics of Huawei, saying that the company could “cause mayhem, seizing control of, say, dams, air traffic control and electricity generators”, or even bring down internet access.
Since then, the UK has further distanced itself from Huawei, and the 35 percent cap on all Huawei equipment used in UK 5G networks could be reduced even further in coming weeks. But Huawei’s vice-president Victor Zhang has sent a message to the UK government that now is “not the right time” for a new review, because it could have a “vital” impact on the rollout of 5G and gigabit-speed broadband in the UK.
“We have now decided as a result of the EU toolbox and the UK government’s decision to take out Huawei from the core,” Vodafone’s chief executive Nick Read told reporters in February. “This will take around five years to implement at a cost of approximately 200 million euros,” he said.
But in the meantime, companies such as BT and Vodafone still need Huawei equipment to keep their networks operating, and Huawei said it would be months before the company could measure the impact of US sanctions on its supply chain, especially regarding relationships with partners outside of China.
“It is too early to draw a conclusion on any restrictions from the US government,” Zhang explained. But he went on to clarify that existing relationships with UK operators shouldn’t be affected. “There’s no issue for Huawei to continue to work with our customers like BT and Vodafone,” he said.
Supply chain transparency
Despite these reassurances, and in the light of growing pressure from backbenchers within the Conservative party, there is likely to be some change in the coming months, especially if Huawei finds an alternative to US-made semiconductors, which will result in even greater concerns around transparency in the Huawei supply chain.
“If the Chinese state mobilises to support rapid manufacturing of alternatives our longstanding understanding of how the [Huawei] supply chain works just disappears,” a Whitehall official told the Financial Times last month.
Meanwhile, Huawei continues to develop new partnerships around the world, and Argentina's Foreign Ministry confirmed this week that government officials had met with the Chinese firm's representatives to "discuss the company's investment in the country and the eventual impact of 5G technology in Argentina and across the world."