BT to strip Huawei equipment from core 4G network

5 Dec 2018

Huawei logo. Image: oleschwander/Depositphotos

Are western security fears grounded in reality or inspired by paranoia?

It has emerged that UK telecoms giant BT is to strip Huawei equipment from its core 4G networks within the next two years.

As governments around the world prepare for 5G auctions and a new generation of digital services, western world protectionism against the rise of sophisticated offerings from Shenzhen-based tech companies is influencing infrastructure decisions.

This is despite the irony that the very iPhone or Android devices toted by most politicians and executives are made by companies such as Foxconn in Shenzhen itself on behalf of well-known brands.

Security review

In recent months, we have seen the US apply embargos against Asian companies such as ZTE or block the acquisition of Qualcomm by Singapore-based Broadcom. Meanwhile, the US, Australia and New Zealand have moved to block the use of Huawei’s 5G equipment on security grounds.

We reported how a UK government panel issued a report into the security status of Huawei products – with inconclusive results – and, in recent weeks, the UK government wrote to several telecoms companies warning them that their 5G supply chain may be affected by a review of the UK’s telecoms infrastructure that was launched in July.

Huawei is leading the charge by Chinese telecoms equipment and smartphone makers at such a velocity that it is outpacing traditional European equipment makers such as Nokia or Ericsson and US equipment makers such as Cisco.

The letter said the review aimed to ensure that Britain’s “critical national infrastructure remains resilient and secure”. The letter did not name Huawei but warned that “the outcome of the review may lead to changes in the current rules”.

It is understood that BT was one of the first companies outside China to deploy Huawei equipment after signing a deal with the company in 2005 but has kept the equipment out of the ‘control panel’ of its core network. However, when BT acquired EE for £12.5bn in 2016, Huawei equipment was at the core of EE’s 3G and 4G networks. According to the Financial Times, Huawei’s “enhanced packet core” technology is still used in the core EE network.

It is understood that BT is now extracting Huawei equipment from the core of its 3G and 4G network but will continue to use Huawei’s kit in what it considers to be benign parts of the network, such as equipment on masts. The operator has also excluded Huawei from bidding for contracts to supply equipment for use in its core 5G network, it said.

In Ireland, the overwhelming majority of wireless broadband modems in people’s homes are manufactured by Huawei. In recent weeks, incumbent operator Eir announced that Huawei would be a partner in its €150m mobile network upgrade, providing the radio access network equipment to enable the operator to achieve 99pc geographic coverage with 4G as well as get the ball rolling for 5G in large urban centres.

Huawei is a significant employer in Ireland, with close to 200 people engaged in a range of business and R&D activities in Dublin, Athlone and Cork.

Huawei logo. Image: oleschwander/Depositphotos

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years