System dynamics applied to the UK’s 5G vendor selection problem

The following is an excerpt from a recent OU module that I’m doing on systems thinking. It was on an area that I thought was particularly relevant, the vendor selection for the UK’s future 5G telecommunications network[1].

This in the world of academia is known as a recent Situation of Interest (SoI). Here it has been applied to a completely different industry to that I’ve got first hand experience in, so go easy on me.

Huawei staff look to sell their wares
Contention is in the air… What would sort the mess out?

I intend to post on similar topics as opportunity permits. Happy to hear your thoughts, so feel free to use the comments section below.

Contention over Huawei

The contention (openly political) stems over use of technology from the company Huawei in the creation of the UK’s own 5G network (LINK). Due to concerns over the security of Chinese owned technology, pressure has mounted on the UK Government to decide as to exclude or not Huawei from participation in this next generation of technology.

Mental Model – System Dynamics Applied

There are an incredible number of stakeholders involved in this decision. The impacts of which are clearly felt by the UK government and Huawei themselves (not discussed further here). However, there are mental models to explain the situation from different perspectives. To demonstrate an appreciation of System Dynamics (SD), there are 4 diagrams drawn below. The final causal loop (diagram 1) intends to summarise these models into the wider SoI. The last three (diagrams 2 to 4) take a single stakeholder perspective. Elements that drew curiosity in the application of SD tools fall into 6 areas.

Fig.1 – A combined causal loop as estimated of the SoI regards 5G vendor selection

System Feedback Loops

B1 – Incentives

B2 – 5G Network Development

B3 – Cyber Defence

R1 – Regulated Market                                  (Virtuous Circle with significant delays)

R2 – Product Development                          (Virtuous Circle)

R3 – Vendor Approval                                    (Vicious Spiral)


  1. Each of the five key features is represented with loop identifiers. The only differences are (1) the location of the delay indicators to within causal arrows rather than at their start and (2) a double slash to denote multiple causes rather than merely linear thinking.
  2. The balancing loops from (B1, B2 and B3) are used to describe causal loops that eventually reach a status quo. Though there may be a difference in the time it takes for them to return to normal. For example, given the innumerable exploits of security vulnerabilities, the expectation is that cyber defence (B3) reacts more responsively than perhaps government incentives (B1) in reaction to a slower than expected deployment of 5G.
  3. This contrasts with the reinforcing loops (R1, R2, R3) that each act differently to the other. To describe a proposed view of a regulated market (R1), increased competition leads to reduced profits. Then new entrants emerge through innovation lower costs. However, perhaps any initial optimism is weighed significantly by time delays expected to reach lower network costs.
  4. A mission of national intelligence agencies can include cyber defence (see Diagram 2). A problem proposed as increased cyber incidents. A fix assumed by some stakeholders to be increased network integrity. Sadly, the combination of balancing and reinforcing loops drawn may suggest unintended consequences. A proposed quick fix to deny Huawei products from 5G networks may fail to resolve the problem of cyber incidents occurring.
  5. R3 is a vicious spiral, and only with the abstraction of external pressure from the US, would this change significantly. If valuable, it hypothesises inevitable deselection of Huawei products from the UK’s 5G network. Again, modelling the causal loops may identify mistakes in this judgement. Furthermore, media attention may be focused on only this aspect of the problem, whilst potentially ignoring the wider (or hidden) causal variables.
  6. A strategic intervention by the US may have an immediate and reinforcing effect on network security. An unexpected effect of increased political pressure and make the situation worse. Moreover, it negates to consider a change in direction by US politicians, as described by a European Thinktank (Nakashima et al., 2019). If this changed then you may see an associated change that supports the use of Huawei products.

Value to you…?

If you have your own thoughts on use of system dynamics or other tools, I’d like to hear from you. Likewise, if you believe similar assessment methods would be valuable to your business, team or problem, call today.

Reference(s), amongst others

Nakashima, E., Mekhennet, S., Fifield, A., 2019. U.S. pushes hard for a ban on Huawei in Europe, but the firm’s 5G prices are nearly irresistible. Washington Post.

Woodward, A., 2019. UK must take a pragmatic approach to Huawei puzzle. Daily Telegraph. London. 5.

[1] 5G is the 5th generation of mobile network that is claimed to increase reliability, capacity, speed and reduce response times.

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