Vodafone has suspended the use of Huawei equipment in its core networks, amid mounting security concerns about the Chinese firm’s technology.
The move by the mobile giant follows claims that Huawei’s hardware could be used by Beijing for spying or to seize control of critical infrastructure.
The US along with Australia and New Zealand have already banned Huawei from their faster 5G networks because of alleged links to the Chinese regime.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has previously raised “very deep concerns” about the Chinese company’s involvement in the UK’s rollout of 5G, while the head of MI6, Alex Younger, said the UK would have to make “some decisions” about such firms after the steps by other governments.
However, Vodafone’s chief executive Nick Read argued that the debate over the company was being carried out at a “too simplistic level” and highlighted the firm’s importance to the mobile industry.
Mr Read said: “We have decided to pause further Huawei in our core whilst we engage with the various agencies and governments and Huawei just to finalise the situation, of which I feel Huawei is really open and working hard.”
Poland is considering barring Huawei from 5G after it arrested an executive from the firm earlier this month on spying charges.
The suspect, who denies any wrongdoing, has since been sacked by the company.
Mr Read also warned of higher costs and delays to the rollout of 5G if an EU ban on the firm’s equipment comes into force.
Operators in Europe such as BT and Orange have already taken steps to remove Huawei equipment or limit its future use.
The Vodafone boss said although European governments and security agencies had not pressured his company into taking action, the “noise level” had increased to such a point that there was a need for clarity.
He pointed out that governments in Africa and the Middle East, where Vodafone also used Huawei, had not raised concerns.
Huawei overtook Sweden’s Ericsson to become the world’s biggest manufacturer of telecoms equipment earlier this decade, despite being shut out of the US market.
A company spokesman said it had been a long-term partner to Vodafone since 2007, adding that the firm understood Vodafone was only pausing deployment in its core networks in Europe.
He said: “Huawei is focused on supporting Vodafone’s 5G network rollouts, of which the core is a small proportion.
“We are grateful to Vodafone for its support of Huawei and we will endeavour to live up to the trust placed in us.”
Huawei’s latest setback comes after the Prince’s Trust announced it would no longer accept donations from the company “in light of public concerns”.
Oxford University has also pulled the plug on funding from the firm.
Huawei was founded by Ren Zhengfei, a former officer in the People’s Liberation Army, leading to questions about inappropriate links to the Chinese state, something Huawei has always denied.
Mr Zhengfei carried out a rare interview earlier this week in which he was quoted as saying he had never been asked to share “improper information”.
5G has been hailed as the next great leap for mobile communications, enabling everything from smart cities to hologram calls, but there are fears Chinese technology could be used to give Beijing ground-level access to and potentially control over the UK’s critical infrastructure.
(c) Sky News 2019: Vodafone puts parts of Huawei on hold over security row