Huawei should get a limited 5G role – the US trade deal can wait

By Nils Pratley

Should Chinese firm Huawei’s kit be banned from the UK’s 5G network? As with HS2, Boris Johnson is guaranteed to end up infuriating one side of the argument. The stakes, though, are substantially higher here, whatever the prime minister says about his hopes for compromise. One route could lead to trade conflict with the US. The other could pile costs on to the UK’s 5G network, with a knock-on impact on UK competitiveness.

Those extra technology costs are almost the only element in this quarrel that is not disputed. Even non-techie outsiders can understand how the expense would arise. The 5G technology is intended to build on the existing 4G infrastructure, where Huawei’s gadgetry is used in UK masts and antennas. An outright ban would amount to a time-consuming “rip and repair” job, say the companies. One way or another, consumers and businesses would pay the bill.

The same issue does not arise in the US because its networks are largely built with equipment from the only other big firms left in the market – Nokia and Ericsson. Blocking Huawei would narrow choice further, at least until Samsung or somebody else fills the gap in the market.

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