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UK telecommunications infrastructure and the UK’s domestic capability

Inquiry

The next generation of mobile telecommunications (known as ‘5G’) promises faster download speeds, more reliable connections and technical abilities that enable new systems such as autonomous vehicles or connected health devices.

In January 2020, the Government announced that it would allow Huawei and other “high risk vendors” to supply “non-sensitive” elements of the UK’s 5G telecommunications networks, despite security concerns.

The issue highlighted the UK’s lack of domestic capability to supply these networks. In rejecting US calls for a complete ban on Huawei equipment, the Prime Minister acknowledged that a lack of alternatives to high-risk vendors influenced the decision.

In a statement to the House of Commons in February, the Foreign Secretary stated that there were only three major players (previously identified by a previous Government as Nokia, Huawei, and Ericsson) who could supply key parts of the UK telecoms networks, and acknowledged this was a “market failure” which had implications for the “security and resilience” of UK networks.

Responding to concerns raised by Members of Parliament last month, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport told the House of Commons that the Government is not yet in a position “to set out a specific date or timetable for reaching no high-risk vendors” but that the Government would work with the “Five Eyes (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, US and UK) and other partners” to develop new supply chain capacity in our national infrastructure during the course of the Parliament.

In this context, the Science and Technology Committee has launched an inquiry to understand how telecommunications capacity can be built in the UK. Specifically, the Committee would like to hear evidence on:

  • what led to the current lack of market competition among telecommunications equipment suppliers and the absence of a domestic supplier in the UK;
  • what are the major barriers to entry into the UK telecommunications market are and how these could be overcome;
  • the feasibility of the Government supporting the establishment and growth of a UK-based vendor of 5G equipment;
  • how the UK can work with international partners (such as the ‘Five Eyes’ countries) to build a domestic capacity;
  • measures the UK Government could take to encourage additional, established vendors to enter the UK market; and
  • in what timeframe the Government should look to build domestic capacity and remove all “high risk” vendors.

The Committee would welcome written evidence submissions on any of these points. Submissions should be sent to the Committee by Sunday 31 May 2020.

 

 

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