Insights Government publishes response to House of Commons Science and Technology Committee’s report highlighting the risks to network resilience and security of relying on just two vendors for the UK’s 5G rollout

In November 2020, following the decision to exclude Huawei as a supplier of 5G network infrastructure in the UK, the Government published a 5G Supply Chain Diversification Strategy setting out its plans to build “an open, innovative and diverse 5G supply chain to ensure the security and resilience of the UK’s digital networks”.

In February 2021, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee published a report, “5G market diversification and wider lessons for critical and emerging technologies”, which highlighted the risks to network resilience and security by relying on just two vendors for the UK’s 5G rollout, namely Ericsson and Nokia.

In its report, the Committee said that the Government’s 5G supply chain diversification strategy had come too late to prevent this, and would, by its own admission, take years to achieve any success. It called on the Government to publish, within three months, a more detailed action plan for implementing its diversification strategy. This action plan should include:

  • 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.

Further, the Committee said, in order to avoid similar situations arising in other technologies, the Government should act to urgently assess its potential dependence on suppliers of emerging technologies. It called 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.

In response to the 5G issue, the Government has said that it has commenced work to establish test facilities for new suppliers and deployment models, funded a range of Open RAN trials through the DCMS 5G Testbeds and Trials Programme, and convened international discussions to build consensus across the global market.

Further, it said that the DCMS’s recently established Diversification Taskforce had published a report containing recommendations across four primary areas:

  • the role of Government in ensuring that international standards-setting for 5G works for the UK;
  • potential government and regulatory interventions, such as defragmenting spectrum or sunsetting 2G and 3G;
  • opportunities to accelerate the development and adoption of Open RAN; and
  • long-term ambitions for domestic capability in future telecoms.

The Government said that it will respond to the findings of the Diversification Taskforce and set out the detailed steps that it will take to drive the implementation and delivery of its strategy before summer recess 2021, including specific deliverables and milestones. This will include setting out the Government’s approach to the next round of targeted research and development (R&D) investment.

As for emerging technologies, the Government said that it has committed, in the Integrated Review for the UK, to be more active in shaping the open international order of the future: using its convening power and working with others to ensure it is fit for the 21st century and more resilient to short-term shocks and long-term challenges.

Building coalitions of like-minded nations around common values, including through its G7 Presidency and the Future Tech Forum, will be central, the Government said. The DCMS is leading the G7’s Digital and Tech Ministerial Track which seeks to demonstrate the need for a trusted, values-driven digital ecosystem that can enhance prosperity in a way that is both inclusive and sustainable.

Beyond the G7, the Government said that the DCMS is leading work on the Future Tech Forum, which will seek to create a sustained dialogue with a broader set of international partners, building consensus around the core principles that guide the evolution of the international technology ecosystem, in support of shared democratic values. It will also consider how the international community can harness digital technologies to tackle shared global challenges.

As for Artificial Intelligence, the Government said that it is shaping emerging norms and normative frameworks as a founder member of the Global Partnership on AI, which has a focus on ethics and responsibility.

Further, the Government said, the DCMS is preparing a Digital Strategy, and a National Data Strategy which will complement the BEIS Innovation Strategy to be published in summer 2021. These, together with the Defence Science and Technology Strategy, and AI Strategy, will set out how the UK will achieve its goal and approach to critical and emerging technologies. To read the Government’s response in full, click here.