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Chinese government grants BT new powers

Enhanced operating licences improve telco’s ability to work with customers in China

BT has become the first foreign telecoms operator to be granted national licences by China’s ministry of industry and information technology, which means its local operation can now contract directly with customers in China and bill them in local currency.

The two licences cover national domestic IP-VPN and national internet service provider (ISP) services, and will be a major boost to BT, which has a large number of multinational clients with operations in China that need secure and reliable connectivity in order to expand locally.

“We are delighted with this major benefit for our customers,” said BT Global Services CEO Bas Burger. “Thanks to cooperation between the governments of China and the UK, we are now able to offer a nationwide service in China that can be scaled up to match the ambitions and needs of our customers.

“Being able to service and bill locally significantly simplifies the process of delivering connectivity and other communication services. It is what our customers expect from us and we are very grateful for the opportunity to do this as of today.”

International trade secretary Liam Fox commented: “I am very pleased that close cooperation between the UK and Chinese governments has resulted in BT securing these licences, which will enable it to operate across the country.

“This major milestone exemplifies the vital work of my international economic department to open up markets and ensure that UK firms are represented on the global stage.”

The move by Beijing to make it easier for BT to operate in China comes during a major row over the activities of Chinese networking supplier Huawei in western countries, which potentially jeopardises Huawei’s ability to work in the UK in future.

BT has itself taken steps to remove Huawei equipment from the core of its EE 4G mobile network and will limit its future involvement in the upcoming 5G network.

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Huawei, meanwhile, has been putting out its side of the story, with its founder, Ren Zhengfei, going on record as saying he would “certainly say no” to any request from the Chinese government to assist its intelligence agencies, or build backdoors into its products.

Earlier this week, The Prince’s Trust charity said it, too, was cutting links to Huawei in the light of the current situation. The two organisations have worked together since 2007 and Huawei was named one of the charity’s patrons in 2016. The Prince’s Trust, which helps young people into education, training and jobs, has received almost £500,000 in donations from Huawei over the years.

Academic institutions working with Huawei have also backed away from it as the controversy escalates, with Queen’s University Belfast ditching a £700,000 collaboration on 5G research, and the University of Oxford suspending ties earlier in January 2019.

However, other R&D partners, such as the University of Surrey’s 5G Innovation Centre (5GIC), have said they are standing by Huawei.

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