UK Prime Boris Johnson is considering increasing state investments in domestic telecoms companies so that they can better compete in the 5G sector, The Times reports.
The move is part of the UK government’s plan to reduce the involvement of the Chinese telecom giant Huawei in the country’s 5G network rollout.
The Times cited unnamed sources as saying that the blueprint stipulates state funding for such UK telecom firms as Vodafone and BT to support their push for developing rival 5G technology.
The sources admitted that doing so would be “a longer-term ambition” given that Britain is lagging behind its international partners in terms of 5G network development.
Bob Seely, administrator of the Huawei Interest Group of 59 Tory MPs who are concerned about the Chinese tech giant, said that Johnson’s plan to invest more in UK firms is “a very good thing, because in future 5G and our advanced communications are going to be more about software than hardware”.
“Therefore potentially you have lower barriers to entry for new players to bring creative and innovative ideas into market more quickly. That benefits us and them. We need to create a new market. If we can, through legal means, as well as financial incentives, develop that domestic open market, it’s good for Britain”, Seely pointed out.
The remarks came a few days after London said that the UK had been seeking new entrants into the country’s 5G telecommunications market since the beginning of the year.
"We set out in January that we were seeking new entrants into the market in order to diversify, and that is something we have been speaking with our allies about including the United States", a government spokesperson said as quoted by Reuters on Friday.
Huawei Vice President Victor Zhang, for his part, said in a statement last week that reports from "unnamed sources" did not make sense, and that his company was "100 [percent] owned by employees" and has operated in the UK for 20 years.
“[Our] priority has been to help mobile and broadband companies keep Britain connected, which in this current health crisis has been more vital than ever. This is our proven track-record”, he underscored.
This followed The Daily Telegraph citing a source as saying that Johnson “still wants a relationship with China” but that the country’s Huawei deal “is going to be significantly scaled back”.
According to the source, “officials have been instructed to come up with a plan to reduce Huawei’s involvement as quickly as possible”. The British government is reportedly intending to scale down China’s involvement in UK infrastructure to zero by 2023.
London’s Go-Ahead for Huawei Irks Washington
London has been under pressure from Washington since announcng earlier in the year that the UK, with conditions, would allow Huawei to assist in the implementation of a 5G network-related project in the country. The UK government said that the Chinese firm would be excluded from certain “safety-related” and “safety-critical” networks.
Washington has repeatedly warned London that permitting Huawei to take part in developing the country’s 5G network would put US-UK intelligence-sharing agreements at risk.
The White House’s crackdown on Huawei kicked off in May 2019, when the US Department of Commerce put the Chinese tech giant on its Entity List. Washington on multiple occasions has accused the company of being used to spy on behalf of the Chinese government, which both Beijing and Huawei have sharply refuted.