Four British telcos — Vodafone, O2, EE (a BT unit) and Three — have rolled out networks, and all have used Huawei gear in non-core parts of the network. The companies relied on interim advice from the government of Theresa May, leaked in April 2019, that this would be the government's final stance.
Spanish group Telefonica owns O2 and it has used Huawei’s infrastructure in some of its other networks. O2 has no wide use of Huawei in the UK, but has a network-sharing agreement with Vodafone.
While O2 and EE did not respond to queries from iTWire, a Vodafone UK spokesperson sent a reply that meant nothing, saying: "The UK's mobile industry continues to engage closely with the government and the NCSC (National Cyber Security Centre) concerning the security and resilience of mobile networks. The operators will engage and work with the government on this matter."
While no stated limit on the quantum of Huawei gear to be used was reported in 2019, a new administration, that took office after elections last year, announced in January that Huawei would be allowed to bid for supplying up to 35% of gear in non-core regions of the network.
But on 23 May, reports said that Prime Minister Boris Johnson had changed his mind and Huawei gear would be completely stripped out, with the process to finish by the end of 2023.
Industry sources have told iTWire that if the UK went ahead with this policy, it would cost about £7 billion (A$12.9 billion).
Additionally, the government would have no chance of keeping to its pledge of providing gigabit broadband services to the entire country by 2025, these sources said.
Probably taking these two factors into consideration, British ministers were reported on 28 May as changing policy to now exclude Huawei gear after 2023, and resigned to leaving the installed equipment in place.
The industry sources said that operators were still keeping quiet about the new turn of events, but they would undoubtedly be unhappy as they had been advised in January that it would be okay to use gear from Huawei.
It appears unlikely that the government will publicly announce any change in policy until the National Cyber Security Centre completes a fresh inquiry into the security and resiliency of Huawei equipment in the wake of fresh American moves to restrict the company from obtaining semiconductors from companies that use American technology and equipment is used.
These sanctions would cover both US and non-US firms, but could again end up achieving the opposite of what they aim to.