Skip to main content

Telecoms: 5G Diversification Strategy

Volume 685: debated on Monday 30 November 2020

I wish to inform the House that the Government have today published their 5G diversification strategy, which sets out the Government’s approach to building a resilient, open and sustainable 5G supply chain.

Digital connectivity is now a core part of the everyday lives of millions of people across the UK. It is fundamentally changing the way we live, work and spend time together.

Throughout the covid-19 pandemic, connectivity has allowed us to stay in touch with family and friends, and to stay plugged in while working remotely and access the content and services we need.

With more and more activity happening online, ensuring security in the networks which provide our connectivity is of paramount importance to this Government.

Looking forward, we are now developing world-class next generation technologies, such as 5G and full fibre, which will promote greater connection, drive growth and provide us with the services of the future. But to fully realise the benefits of these technological advances, we need to have confidence in the security and resilience of the infrastructure on which they are built.

That is why we conducted the telecoms supply chain review to look at the long-term security of our 5G and full fibre networks. It is why in January we announced our decision to exclude high-risk vendors from the core of the network, exclude high-risk vendors from sensitive sites, and limit their overall presence in the access network to 35%. It is also why we took the decision in July to set out a clear path to the complete removal of Huawei equipment from our 5G network.

Through the Telecommunications (Security) Bill, we have introduced legislation that will place these decisions on a statutory footing and set out a new, robust security framework for the UK telecoms sector. This will establish the UK as one of the toughest regimes in the world for telecoms security and resilience.

But looking to the future, there is more that we can do. The findings of the telecoms supply chain review highlighted the need for the Government to intervene in the market to create a more diverse and competitive supply chain in the longer term.

The review underscored the fact that a pronounced lack of supplier diversity has developed in the access network supply chain. This lack of competition has restricted choice in the sector and will continue to pose a risk to the security and resilience of our networks if not addressed.

These findings have made it clear that our current market structure is no longer fit for purpose and that without Government intervention, it is highly likely that the current market structure will persist.

Therefore, it is essential that we take action to address this issue. Today’s strategy will deliver lasting and meaningful change in the 5G supply chain and pave the way for a vibrant and dynamic market. A market where competition and innovation bring forward new, open deployment models; where our networks are flexible, made up of an array of suppliers; and where all operators and suppliers adopt the security standards that will ensure that our networks are robust and resilient.

To realise this ambition, we need to strike a balance between fundamentally shifting the market structure towards our long-term vision and ensuring that we can also guarantee the reliability of supply to our networks in the near term.

We have therefore set out a balanced approach to diversification which will see targeted measures introduced across three separate strands of activity;

Supporting incumbent suppliers;

Attracting new suppliers into the UK market; and

Accelerating open-interface solutions and deployment

The decision to commit to the removal of Huawei equipment from our 5G networks was the right decision for the UK’s telecoms networks, for our national security and our economy—both now and in the long term. However, it brings with it a resilience risk as we become more dependent on the remaining suppliers for our telecoms networks. This strategy means that we can mitigate that resilience risk as we approach the complete removal of Huawei from our 5G networks in 2027.

However, this strategy is about more than that. It is about implementing measures across these strands to facilitate a competitive, diverse and open supply market, which will support economic growth and innovation as the UK adopts next-generation technologies.

We recognise that there is a sharp need to work at pace to make early progress on diversification. As a first step towards delivering our long-term vision, the Government have committed an initial investment of up to £250 million, to kick off work to deliver our key priorities.

This will allow us to take forward specific measures as an absolute priority, such as the establishment of a world-class national telecoms lab, increasing UK influence in telecoms standards setting and beginning to dismantle the key barriers to diversification.

These measures will be partnered by immediate steps we are taking to accelerate the development of open-interface solutions. The Government will be funding the NEC NeutORAN project as part of the wider 5G testbeds and trials programme, which will showcase the latest innovations in the radio access network space. We are also partnering with Ofcom and Digital Catapult to fund the SmartRAN Open Network Innovation Centre (SONIC), an industry-facing testing facility for interoperable solutions.

Alongside this, the Government recognise that this is a global issue which affects many of our international allies. As such, we will be seeking to lead a global coalition like-minded partners to mount a co-ordinated international approach to diversification.

These next phases of work will be led by the recently established Telecoms Diversification Taskforce, an expert panel chaired by Lord Ian Livingston. The taskforce will be advising Government as we design and develop targeted measures across the three strands of our strategy. It will also support us in our work to look beyond 5G and address diversity in the full fibre and wider telecoms supply chain going forward.

As the taskforce does so, the Government will be working closely with players across the telecoms industry to explore opportunities to establish homegrown capability within the wider UK tech industry through R&D investment and fostering key skills.

This strategy presents a significant opportunity to position the UK as a growing power in telecoms and set the UK’s telecoms industry apart, by securing a position at the forefront of new, cutting-edge mobile technologies. By acting now, we are in a position to lead the global telecoms industry towards a more open, competitive and innovative standard—with UK companies setting an example across the sector.

Attachments can be viewed online at: http://www.parliament. uk/business/publications/written-questionsanswers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2020-11-30/HCWS610/ .