What does the Huawei ban mean for Pro AV?

What does the Huawei ban mean for Pro AV?
The battle surrounding Huawei’s equipment in European networks has been raging for years. With the UK’s newly announced ban of Huawei equipment in its 5G networks after years of discussion, U-turns and an ever-hardening stance on the manufacturer’s products, pressure is beginning to mount on European states to also reconsider the use of Huawei kit going forward, prompting potential impacts on the Pro AV industry as 5G networks ebb their way into the mainstream.

The UK has taken the step of becoming the first European nation to ban the use of Huawei equipment in its 5G network, prohibiting mobile providers from purchasing new Huawei 5G equipment after 31 December 2020, with all Huawei 5G kit to be removed from UK networks by 2027.  This move follows intense pressure from the United States, which has continually urged the UK and other European states to consider removing Huawei equipment from their 5G networks due to security concerns. 

The UK implemented the U-turn ban after a review in January initially allowed Huawei to remain a supplier in the 5G network infrastructure, introducing a cap on the company’s market share. 

Oliver Dowden, British Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport announced in the House of Commons that: “Telecomms operators must not buy any 5G equipment from Huawei and once the telecoms security bill is passed, it will be illegal for them to do so. 

“The world leading expertise of NCSC and GCHQ has enabled us to publish one of the most detailed analyses of the risks to the 5G network. The UK is now acting quickly, decisively and ahead of our international partners. That is why we are taking this decision that there can be no new Huawei equipment from the end of this year and set out a clear timetable to exclude Huawei completely by 2027 with an irreversible path implemented by the time of the next election.”

Huawei hit back at the government’s decision, condemning the move as having the potential to slow down the network and increase prices as Ed Brewster, spokesperson, Huawei UK explained: “It threatens to move Britain into the digital slow lane, push up bills and deepen the digital divide.

“Regrettably our future in the UK has become politicised, this is about US trade policy and not security. Over the past 20 years, Huawei has focused on building a better connected UK. As a responsible business, we will continue to support our customers as we have always done."

What does this mean for the rollout of the 5G network in the UK? Huawei’s concerns seem to be somewhat realised, as the decision to strip Huawei equipment from UK 5G networks, backed by law that prevents the usage of such equipment, will inevitably lead to an urgent rethink to the equipment used in the network. Dowden admitted that removing Huawei from the infrastructure could push the total rollout date of the UK’s 5G network back by an estimated two to three years, with the cost of the ban potentially reaching as high as two billion pounds.  

5G Brit
Photo credit: Ascannio, Shutterstock

This move was made amidst global security concerns from leading international intelligence agencies such as Britain’s GCHQ and the USA’s CIA which claims that China’s security agencies have funded Huawei, with the company allegedly taking money from China’s People’s Liberation Army and the Chinese National Security Commission, prompting massive security concerns surrounding collusion between Huawei and the Chinese Communist Party and possible Chinese state infiltration via a ‘back door’ into western infrastructures and networks. 


These fears are shared by leading powers in Europe, with key European Union states such as Germany and France becoming increasingly sceptical of allegedly ‘high risk’ vendors such as Huawei, but stopping short of an outright ban. In February 2020, Germany backed a position paper on 5G mobile networks, recommending tougher rules on foreign vendors such as Huawei. The stance in Europe has remained suspicious but falling short of outright bans, but this position could shift in a way that effects the European Pro AV industry. 

To this end, the European Union issued guidelines on the use of high risk networks, providing a ‘toolbox’ for member states, as the European Commission explained in a statement: “The objective of the EU toolbox on 5G Cybersecurity is to identify a coordinated European approach based on a common set of measures, aimed at mitigating the main cybersecurity risks of 5G networks that were identified in the EU coordinated risk assessment report.

"It also intends to provide guidance in the selection and prioritisation of measures that should be part of national and EU risk mitigation plans. The ultimate goal is to create a robust and objective framework of security measures, which will ensure an adequate level of cybersecurity of 5G networks across the EU, through coordinated approaches among Member States. The approach taken is a risk-based one and solely on security grounds. This approach is in full respect of the openness of the EU internal Market as long as the EU security requirements are respected.”

Although the European Union and its member states have been hesitant to crack down on high risk 5G vendors with a blanket ban, there are now whispers that this position could be shifting in some states. 

5G tower
Photo credit: JazzLove, Shutterstock

Turning tables

Reuters reported that a senior EU diplomat said that some countries in the European Union do not believe that the European Commission guidelines ‘did not go far enough’, with doubts increasingly mounting against the company in the eyes of some European states. 

5G is seen to be capable of providing higher frequencies to support bandwidth-intensive applications, provide higher reliable and 1ms latency for a broad range of pro AV applications, which Inavate discussed in 2019. 

Weighing up the pros and the cons of a Europe wide ban, the professional AV world could see a more secure 5G network, especially important for government, corporate and healthcare applications where security, privacy and confidentiality is of the upmost importance. 

On the other hand, the UK’s warnings of delays and rising costs could serve as a case study for future implications of such a ban, potentially leading to a period of uncertainty and U-turns by European governments that consider and implement bans, especially as US national security advisor Robert o’Brien lands in Paris for three days of talks with counterparts from France, Germany, Italy and the UK.
The US has been leading the charge against Huawei use, repeatedly warning European states of the supposed dangers surrounding the company’s equipment that, until recently, have largely gone unheard. 

In the wake of Covid-19, international incidents involving China which have led to widespread condemnation by European powers and increasing pressure from the US and UK, the possibility of a ban becomes more likely, and with it, rising costs and years-long delays to the rollout of the system which will undoubtedly have consequences for product development and deployment,. 

The UK’s decision to ban Huawei equipment is but one act in a long drama surrounding the company’s usage in 5G networks, and it is unlikely that the UK will be the last to consider a ban or perhaps even to implement one. 

It is clear that the Huawei question is unlikely to disappear any time soon, with mounting pressure on European states and ever-growing suspicion of the company and its potential government connections, the road ahead for 5G networks, like 2020 itself, is shaping up to be rocky, costly and unpredictable. 

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