Ex-BT boss leads task force to attract new vendors to UK telecoms

Ex-BT CEO and former trade minister Lord Ian Livingston is to chair a new task force to drive forward ongoing work to diversify the UK’s telecoms supply chain and reduce reliance on high-risk vendors.

Later this year the government will publish its Telecoms Diversification Strategy to address a market failure where mobile companies are limited to using just three major suppliers in their telecoms networks. This restricts choice and poses a risk for the security and resilience of the UK’s future digital networks.

The forthcoming strategy will set out the key areas for boosting competition and innovation in the UK market by building an open, sustainable and diverse telecoms supply chain.

The global market for communications network equipment is currently dominated by three vendors – Huawei, Ericsson and Nokia. The government wants to bring more players into the market to make networks more secure and deliver higher quality products and services.

The Telecoms Diversification Task Force will provide independent expert advice to the government as it works towards diversifying the network so that telecoms companies do not have to use high-risk vendors like Huawei or rely on individual vendors to supply equipment in their networks.

This follows the government’s commitment, informed by advice from the National Cyber Security Centre, to ban the use of new Huawei 5G equipment from the end of this year, and remove all existing Huawei kit from 5G networks by 2027. The forthcoming Telecoms Security Bill will turn these commitments into law after being introduced this autumn.

The task force, which includes senior representatives of Vodafone and Openreach alongside industry and academic experts, will support the development and implementation of the strategy. The full membership includes:

  • Lord Ian Livingston of Parkhead (chair)
  • Rosalind Singleton, Chair of UK5G Advisory Board
  • Clive Selley, CEO, Openreach
  • Scott Petty, CTO, Vodafone UK
  • David Rogers, CEO, Copper Horse
  • Professor Rahim Tafazolli, Head of Institute of Communication Systems, University of Surrey
  • Professor Dimitra Simeonidou, Professor of High Performance Networks, University of Bristol
  • Dr Scott Steedman, Director of Standards, British Standards Institute

Dr Ian Levy, Technical Director of NCSC and Simon Saunders, Director of Emerging Technology at Ofcom will also be available to the task force to provide technical advice.

Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said:

“To deliver the revolutionary benefits of 5G networks for people and businesses, we need to be confident in their security and resilience. A more diverse supply chain is essential to reducing our dependence on individual suppliers and improving telecoms security – as well as a great economic opportunity for the UK.

“Under Lord Livingston’s leadership, this task force will use industry expertise to turbo charge the delivery of our Diversification Strategy. Together we will push ahead with bold ideas to break through the barriers stopping suppliers from entering the UK and put us at the forefront of innovative new mobile technologies.”

Lord Livingston, Chair of the Diversification Task Force said:

“The UK is already a leading nation in the adoption and use of digital communications.

“It is vital that we position ourselves for the next generation of technology, particularly 5G, by having a wide choice of secure, innovative and high quality suppliers.

“I look forward to chairing this team of experts from industry and academia who can provide advice to government as to how it can best achieve these aims”

Through the Diversification Strategy, the task force will look at creating targeted measures to attract new vendors alongside the current pool of incumbent, non-high risk suppliers. The government is talking to a range of vendors – large and small – about how it can support them to enter the market and accelerate diversification.

The task force will also look at ways to develop the capability of the UK’s vibrant and innovative telecoms sector. It will explore how to incentivise research and development in the sector, including accelerating the development of open and interoperable equipment which can be used by multiple vendors, such as OpenRAN.

The government is working closely with its international allies to develop solutions that will result in lasting change in the global telecoms market, and secure the UK’s position as a world leader in 5G networks.

Alongside the Diversification Strategy, the Telecoms Security Bill will give new powers to the government to control the presence of high risk equipment vendors, and to Ofcom to drive up security standards. The Bill will enshrine in law one of the strongest regimes for telecoms security in the world.

Duncan Newell

Duncan is a technology professional with over 20 years experience of working in various IT roles. He has a interest in cyber security, and has a wide range of other skills in radio, electronics and telecommunications.

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