New 5G research lab to be created to help UK replace banned Huawei technology

The UK is to open a new 5G lab so that the country no longer has to rely on the technology of foreign companies like Huawei. 

Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden has unveiled Government plans Monday for a £250 million scheme to develop new secure internet technology in Britain, which includes building a new research facility.

The lab will bring together security experts, businesses and leading academics to pioneer ways to create a more open 5G network that will allow smaller British companies to also develop the vital technology.

The move comes after ministers decided to ban the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei from the UK network in July over national security fears of its closeness to Beijing.

However, the decision leaves the UK facing a situation where it could be left dependent on just two large companies, Ericsson and Nokia, to supply all the hardware for the transformative next generation of mobile technology.

As well as providing far faster phone internet speeds, 5G will underpin the coming revolution in smart technology where everything from self-driving cars to household appliances will be connected online.

Yet there is a significant challenge finding new 5G suppliers in that currently only a few huge companies have the capability and expertise to build and run their own networks from scratch.

Another hurdle is that larger telecoms companies often take a monopolistic approach to their networks, ensuring that only their own kit can be used in the infrastructure.

To address the shortage, ministers are hoping to develop a more diverse ‘Open RAN’ system in the UK, which can run on components from multiple suppliers, meaning smaller British companies would be able develop their own. 

The liberalised Open RAN mobile system is already in operation in a few countries such as Japan.

As part of the new initiative, ministers also announced a project to trial a new Open RAN 5G network in Wales from 2021 with the Japanese telecoms company NEC.

In an oped for The Telegraph, Mr Dowden, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said the new lab and Open RAN initiatives would help create new tech jobs across the UK.

He said: “At the moment, we’re limited to Nokia, Ericsson and Huawei, and without further action, we are at risk of being reliant on only two vendors.

“This is a global problem – but the UK is going to lead the way in solving it.

“That’s why we are unveiling an ambitious new Diversification Strategy that will find homegrown ways to open up the worldwide 5G market. 

“We are going to build a state-of-the-art National Telecoms Lab to test equipment, and invest into research and development.

“And we’re going to level the playing field by finding ways to remove the technical and commercial barriers that currently stop smaller companies from entering the market. As we exit the EU, this will help plant Global Britain’s flag in the 5G sand.”

The announcement comes as the Government’s Telecommunications Security Bill is laid before Parliament on Monday to formalise the Huawei ban.

Under the proposals, all UK telecoms companies will be barred from installing any new Huawei kit in their networks from September, ahead of having all components made by the Chinese company removed by 2027.

The legislation will introduce harsh penalties for companies that breach the ban, allowing them to be fined up to 10 percent of their revenue or £100,000-a-day.

As well as the prohibition on Huawei components, the bill will also give ministers powers to ban other companies from the UK’s network that are deemed to pose a security threat.

Meanwhile, the media regulator Ofcom is to be given stronger powers to investigate companies and ensure the Huawei ban is being upheld.

Mr Dowden added: “The Telecommunications Security Bill may be a spartan title, but it will create one of the toughest security regimes in the world for our mobile and broadband networks.”

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