Ericsson scoops urban part of BT 5G communications network

Building on the operator’s selection of the comms tech firm’s 5G core solutions earlier in 2020, Ericsson wins deal to upgrade BT’s existing radio access network infrastructure on EE mobile network.

Four weeks after it announced how it was to comply with UK government instruction to replace Huawei technology from its communications infrastructure, BT has now selected Ericsson as the key partner for 5G deployment in the UK capitals and other major cities.

When the deployment is completed, Ericsson will manage around half of BT’s total 5G traffic, building on BT’s selection of Ericsson for its 5G Core earlier in the year. BT’s EE mobile network will now make use of Ericsson 5G radio access network (RAN) connectivity, and Ericsson will modernise BT’s existing 2G and 4G RAN infrastructure to enhance customer experience and network performance for BT and EE customers.

Prompting the selection of Ericsson technology by BT – to complement Nokia’s tech in rural and other major locations – was the UK government’s July 2020 decision to commit to a timetable for removing Huawei equipment from the 5G network by 2027.

This was taken after the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) reviewed the consequences of the announcement by the US government on 15 May to extend its restrictions on the sale of hardware and software to so-called “high-risk” suppliers such as Huawei, leading to the Chinese communications technology giant not being able to buy equipment from long-standing suppliers. This action comes at a huge cost to operators such as BT.

Speaking to a UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee in July, Andrea Dona, head of networks at Vodafone UK, and Howard Watson, chief technology and information officer at BT Group, warned that to rip out long-established Huawei technology from their networks – from not only from nascent 5G infrastructures, but long-established 4G and 3G nets – would cost both firms billions of pounds.

Biting the bullet, BT has taken on products and solutions from the Ericsson Radio System portfolio, including Ericsson Spectrum Sharing, which will enable BT to dynamically share 4G and 5G traffic. This will enable smooth, fast and cost-effective migration to 5G, according to BT.

The deployment also includes Ericsson’s cloud native dual-mode 5G Core network selection, including products and services from Ericsson’s dual-mode Evolved Packet Core and 5G Core.

Commenting on the deployment, Philip Jansen, CEO of BT, said: “Our customers deserve the best network and we are delivering. We’re the UK leader in 5G and are excited to be working with Ericsson as a key partner to maintain that market leadership.

“Through this deal, we will continue to drive the best mobile experiences for our customers. The lightning-fast speeds of 5G will help them to develop their businesses, stream a growing choice of content over our network, and stay in touch with colleagues and friends all over the world.”

“BT has a clear direction in how it wants to drive its 5G ambitions in the UK, and we are delighted to be their partner in delivering that,” added Ericsson president and CEO, Börje Ekholm. “5G plays a critical role in meeting the UK’s digital ambitions, accelerating digitalisation of the economy and stimulating next-generation wireless innovation for consumers and enterprise.”

Yet the section of Ericsson and Nokia to replace Huawei technology also showed in sharp relief the thorny issue of issue of diversity in the communications supply chain in the UK.

In September 2020, the UK government announced that one of the consequences of the decision to ban the use of technology from Huawei in the UK’s national communications infrastructure was to expose the very limited nature of the UK’s essential comms tech supply.

To address this issue, the government has set up a task force to drive work to diversify the UK’s telecoms supply chain and reduce reliance on so-called high-risk suppliers. It believes that the current situation of mobile operators being limited to using essential technology from just three major suppliers – Huawei, Ericsson and Nokia – in their networks represented a “market failure” that restricted choice and posed a risk for the security and resilience of the UK’s future digital networks.

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