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BT is to begin work to strip Huawei’s network hardware out of EE’s core 4G mobile network, and will not include the Chinese supplier in any future 5G roll-out.
According to the Financial Times, which first reported the story, BT is taking the step in line with a stated internal policy to ensure Huawei-built hardware remains “at the periphery” of its core networks in future 5G deployments.
BT has used Huawei gear extensively since 2005, but reflecting wider concerns over Huawei’s ties to the Chinese government, the operator has always maintained that its equipment cannot be used in core parts of the network where it is possible that national security issues may arise.
Since then, however, it has acquired mobile network operator (MNO) EE, which had no such qualms, installing Huawei’s hardware at the heart of the UK’s largest 4G mobile network.
“In 2016, following the acquisition of EE, we began a process to remove Huawei equipment from the core of our 3G and 4G networks, as part of network architecture principles in place since 2006,” said a BT spokesperson.
“We are applying these same principles to our current RFP [request for proposals] for 5G core infrastructure. As a result, Huawei has not been included in vendor selection for our 5G core.
“Huawei remains an important equipment provider outside the core network, and a valued innovation partner.”
A spokesperson for Huawei said: “Huawei has been working with BT for almost 15 years. Since the beginning of this partnership, BT has operated on a principle of different vendors for different network layers. This agreement remains in place today.
“Since it acquired EE in 2016, the BT Group has been actively bringing EE’s legacy network architecture in line with this long-standing agreement. This is a normal and expected activity, which we understand and fully support.
“As BT noted, ‘Huawei remains an important equipment provider and a valued innovation partner’. Working together, we have already completed a number of successful 5G trials across different sites in London, and we will continue to work with BT in the 5G era.”
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It is understood that the removal and replacement of Huawei equipment will take between 18 months and two years.
The revelation comes shortly after the New Zealand government moved to block the use of Huawei’s equipment in its future 5G networks on security grounds, following similar steps in Australia and the US, where president Trump recently signed a bill excluding Huawei and its compatriot ZTE from contracts with the federal government and its contractors.
This means that, with the exception of the UK and Canada, three of the so-called Five Eyes countries have now moved to block Huawei from national network infrastructure.
Earlier this week, MI6 head Alex Younger specifically targeted the Shenzhen-based supplier in a rare public address, in which he warned that the UK needed to innovate “faster” as it faces down multiple national security threats.
“We need to decide the extent to which we are going to be comfortable with Chinese ownership of these technologies and these platforms in an environment where some of our allies have taken quite a definite position,” he said. “It’s not wholly straightforward.”