Report warns Government must learn from 5G security risks and publish new strategy on emerging technologies
4 February 2021
The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee today publishes a report highlighting the dependency of the UK's 5G rollout on just two vendors, posing risks to network resilience and security.
- Read the report: 5G market diversification and wider lessons for critical and emerging technologies
- Inquiry: UK telecommunications infrastructure and the UK's domestic capability
- Science and Technology Committee
After years of telecommunication market consolidation and the recent decision to exclude Huawei, the UK is reliant on just two equipment vendors. The Government’s 5G supply chain diversification strategy has come too late to prevent this, and will—by its own admission—take years to achieve any success. In order to avoid similar situations arising in other technologies, the Government must act to urgently assess its potential dependence on suppliers of emerging technologies. The House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee's new report highlights the dependency of the UK's 5G rollout on just two vendors, posing risks to network resilience and security.
Drawing on evidence taken throughout the course of the inquiry, the report warns against repeating mistakes as new and important technologies evolve. MPs call on the Government to publish a new assessment of the risks of global technological divergence of standards—and the UK's action plan—within 12 months.
The recommended White Paper should identify critical emerging technologies and associated risks of dependency on high risk vendors, and lay out the Government's proposed response, including consideration of domestic capability and international co-operation, research and supply chain security, and fair, transparent standards setting.
Noting that 5G is not the only emerging technology of critical importance to the UK’s future, the Report sets out a series of key recommendations for the current telecommunications rollout, recently addressed in the Government's 5G Supply Chain Diversification Strategy. Concluding that the strategy needs now to be accompanied by an action plan to implement the strategy, the Committee recommends that there should be:
- A programme of research and development actively managed by the Government: the Government must drive the effort with industry and academia to meet its long-term objectives rather than take a passive approach;
- A range of measures to diversify the market: OpenRAN is one route to diversification, but as its success is uncertain, it should not be regarded as a 'silver bullet' for 5G supplier diversification; and
- International co-operation: the UK accounts for a small proportion of the global telecommunications market, so international co-ordination will be critical. The Committee recommends that the Government establish a standing forum for international co-operation on diversifying the telecommunications market.
Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, said:
"A lack of strategic foresight in 5G has seen the UK become dependent on only two vendors for a crucial technology. We must learn from this experience to avoid making our economy and security vulnerable from a lack of acceptable alternatives in emerging technologies. AI and quantum technologies are just two examples of fields of development which can greatly advance the prospects for our economy and society, but can pose potential threats.
"While the Committee welcomes the Government's 5G diversification strategy, it has come too late and contains little by way of detail. The Government needs to take an activist approach to encouraging research and development, and must now co-operate internationally to build common regulatory approaches with like-minded nations.
"As technologies develop at an ever faster rate, more time must not be lost. In a White Paper, the Government must urgently lay out a strategy for the most important technologies of the future to avoid repeating the supplier squeeze we have ended up with in 5G."