Huawei-commissioned report warns of dire consequences from UK 5G delay

A new report estimates the UK could miss out on £108 billion worth of economic benefit and 350,000 new jobs due to a three-year delay in the country’s 5G rollout.

Wei Shi

October 28, 2020

4 Min Read
Huawei-commissioned report warns of dire consequences from UK 5G delay

A new report estimates the UK could miss out on £108 billion worth of economic benefit and 350,000 new jobs due to a three-year delay in the country’s 5G rollout.

The report, titled “Regional and consumer impact of a delayed 5G roll-out”, is the second instalment of research produced for Huawei by the London-based independent research firm Assembly Research. In their earlier report, “Macroeconomic impact of a delayed 5G roll-out in the UK”, the analysts estimated that a three-year delay in the country’s 5G rollout resulting from the Huawei ban, could cost the UK £18.2 billion and its 5G leadership aspiration.

In this follow-up report the analysts broke the macro impact down to regional and city levels and quantified what would be at stake if the 5G rollout was delayed as projected. The analysis assumed that the delay would most affect North East and North West of England, the Midlands, and the rural areas in general, because the operators would prioritise London and the South East where they could expect higher return.

As a result, consumers and businesses in places more likely to be deprioritised by the operators would have the most to lose, which would widen the already existing digital divide in the country. To quantify it, the authors estimated that £108 billion and 350,000 new jobs, out of the £173 billion and 605,000 jobs 5G is expected to generate in the UK, could fail to materialise.

Such a scenario, the report argued, would go against the government’s pledge to “level up” the economy. This is a precise hit, and potentially a useful tool to change the government’s mind. Boris Johnson won the last general election in a landslide, knocking down the so-called Labour’s Red Wall in the north of England, largely thanks to the “level-up” promise that a Conservative government would strive to rebalance the country’s economy away from London and the South East.

It should not come as a big surprise to find that research projects and reports commissioned by companies more often than not end up with conclusions that support the sponsors’ agendas. Nonetheless, a couple of points in this report may be worth highlighting.

The authors were cautious enough to provide plenty of caveats to their conclusion. They clarified that they calculated the “potential total benefit of 5G to the different regions of the UK. This is to show what is at stake for the different regions, it is not an estimate of what they will miss out on.” The methodology the authors described at the end of the report is legitimate but crude. They used a top-down approach to split the benefits (monetary and job opportunities) to regions and cities based on the regional and city GDP (published by the Office of National Statistics in 2017). By the authors’ own admission “the actual distribution of jobs may not follow the pattern of GDP.”

The “three-year delay” starting premise was taken from Oliver Dowden, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary’s statement on telecoms to the Parliament delivered in July this year. When assessing the impact of the decision to ban Huawei from UK 5G, Dowden said “this means a cumulative delay to 5G rollout of two to three years and costs of up to two billion pounds.” So the authors were taking the worst case scenario (three-year delay) as the base case. Meanwhile, when calculating economic and job contributions 5G could generate the authors decided to source the best scenario numbers, by citing studies commissioned by Qualcomm and Huawei.

It would be interesting if the authors could also look at alternative scenarios that might happen in the UK. The United States and Japan have not used Huawei in their 5G networks but have not experienced a three-year delay to its rollo-out. The authors cited Telia Finland as a success case for 5G-based FWA, but that operator has never had Huawei equipment in its networks either.

UK’s potential delay would come more from removing existing Huawei equipment than not using Huawei in the future. When it comes to calculating 5G’s benefit, not all sides would agree to the estimated trillions of value-add promoted by companies that have entrenched interest in 5G. Gartner, for example, believed 5G was already at its peak of inflated expectations. Full versions of the two Huawei commissioned reports can be found here and here.

About the Author(s)

Wei Shi

Wei leads the Intelligence function. His responsibilities include managing and producing premium content for Intelligence, undertaking special projects, and supporting internal and external partners. Wei’s research and writing have followed the heartbeat of the telecoms industry. His recent long form publications cover topics ranging from 5G and beyond, edge computing, and digital transformation, to artificial intelligence, telco cloud, and 5G devices. Wei also regularly contributes to the news site and other group titles when he puts on his technology journalist hat. Wei has two decades’ experience in the telecoms ecosystem in Asia and Europe, both on the corporate side and on the professional service side. His former employers include Nokia and Strategy Analytics. Wei is a graduate of The London School of Economics. He speaks English, French, and Chinese, and has a working knowledge of Finnish and German. He is based in’s London office.

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