The UK has warned its telecommunications companies to carefully look at their suppliers as they build 5G networks, in a move that industry figures said is targeting Huawei, the Chinese hardware maker.
Matthew Gould, head of Digital Policy at DCMS, and Ciaran Martin, head of the National Cyber Security Center, wrote to several telecoms companies that he was jeopardizing their 5G supply chain from a review of the United Kingdom telecommunications infrastructure launched in July.
The letter said the review aimed to ensure that Britain's "critical national infrastructure remains robust and safe".
He did not name Huawei but stated that "the outcome of the review could lead to changes to the current rules" and that companies "should take the review into all public procurement decisions".
"I doubt we would have seen it if it was Nokia or Ericsson," said Matthew Howett, chief analyst at Assembly Research, a research team focusing on communications policy and regulation.
Telecoms officials have said the government can push operators to make sure Huawei is only one of a variety of vendors. However, they said it is likely that the Chinese company will be excluded from 5G growth in the UK, a move that would delay the networks that are going to connect online in 2019 and 2020.
Both the US and Australia have prevented Chinese suppliers, including Huawei for safety reasons, from being used as telecom operators that are starting to build and test the next generation of mobile network.
In April, the Cyber National Security Center warned telecoms companies not to use China's ZTE as a supplier because of concerns over "long-term adverse effects on UK security."
The supervisor added in July that he was worried about Huawei's "deficiencies" in mechanical procedures exposing British telecommunications networks to "new dangers" including a cyber attack.
A government spokeswoman has dismissed the threat to Huawei, saying: "This is not a bilateral overview of the country of origin of the telecommunications suppliers. It is about ensuring the right overall framework for secure and durable telecommunications networks."
BT via EE's mobile arm launched a 5G test network using Huawei equipment at Canary Wharf in East London and three signed an agreement with the Chinese company to supply 5G radio equipment. Three took 18 months to choose Huawei and continued to inform the NCSC with his plans throughout the process.
Howett said the last letter had arrived "too late" to be credible.
Any move to ban Huawei would mean that UK networks could only use realistic 5G hardware from Nokia, Ericsson or Samsung.
Huawei is considered as a cheaper and more advanced supplier than some of their rivals, said two people with direct knowledge of network equipment supply plans.
Huawei is a key part of the UK Telecoms Supply Chain following a contract with BT in 2005 and has expanded its footprint across Europe since then. The company refused to comment.