Ian Livingston, the former trade minister and BT chief executive, has been appointed by the government to lead the task force that will oversee the UK telecoms industry’s replacement of Huawei equipment in the country’s 5G mobile phone networks.
Lord Livingston will chair the vendor diversity task force that the government said it would establish after it decided in July to ban Huawei from Britain’s 5G networks, according to two people with direct knowledge of the situation.
Following sustained pressure from the US, which says Huawei poses a national security threat, prime minister Boris Johnson in July banned UK operators from purchasing new Huawei 5G equipment from 2021.
The government also set a deadline of 2027 for the removal of any Huawei equipment already installed and committed itself to establishing a task force to ease the transition.
Lord Livingston, who is chairman of retailer Dixons Carphone, has both industry experience, having led BT for five years, and political connections, having served as a minister in David Cameron’s government.
The task force will include political and industry representatives and will work on an implementation plan to minimise the disruption of removing Huawei from the telecoms supply chain.
That could include advising on how to best allocate government funds to ease the transition from the Chinese telecoms group, potentially by subsidising smaller players in the equipment market.
The government has said it wants more diversity in the telecoms equipment market which is dominated by Huawei, Ericsson and Nokia. It has said it wants to work with a pool of international allies to fast-track the development of smaller companies looking to compete with the established players.
Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, will have ultimate oversight of the removal of Huawei from 5G networks and will also be advised by Ofcom, the telecoms regulator, which will provide reports to the department.
Lord Livingston spent more than a decade at BT and was finance director when it handed Huawei its first big European contract win in 2005. The deal proved to be a gateway for the company to become the world’s largest supplier of telecoms equipment.
Lord Livingston started his career at Dixons, where he helped launch Freeserve before joining BT. He has also sat on the board of Celtic Football Club and chaired hedge fund Man Group until last year.
Britain’s four mobile phone networks have all launched 5G services over the past year. EE, Vodafone and Three have used some Huawei equipment to do so.
The government said in January that it would allow telecoms companies to use Huawei for 5G network upgrades but placed a market cap of 35 per cent on the use of the company’s equipment among other restrictions applied to the ‘high risk vendor’.
However it backtracked on that decision in July after US sanctions, aimed at choking off Huawei’s supply of semiconductors, were introduced in May.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport declined to comment.