BT’s Jansen: ‘Impossible’ To Remove Huawei Kit In Under Ten Years

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Ahead of government announcement on Huawei, BT warns it will be ‘impossible’ to remove all its equipment in under ten years

BT has issued a stark warning to the British government, ahead of its impending announcement about the future of Huawei in the United Kingdom.

BT’s boss has said it would ideally want seven years to remove Huawei kit from 5G networks, but it would be impossible to remove its kit from all telecoms networks in under ten years.

The government is said to be planning a 2025 deadline for the removal of all Huawei equipment from the country’s 5G networks. It is unclear if similar deadlines will also be given for Huawei’s other mobile and broadband gear, but a statement is expected on Tuesday.

Image credit: Huawei

Government decision

Huawei has supplied gear to UK mobile phone companies for two decades, and in January the government said it would allow the company to build up to 35 percent of the country’s 5G network, while restricting it from sensitive “core” areas.

That decision meant that Huawei would be excluded from sensitive geographic locations such as nuclear sites and military bases; and have a 35 percent cap in periphery (non-sensitive parts) of the 5G network.

Vodafone in particular has been vocal in the past about its reservations of removing Huawei equipment, and it has said the cost would likely be in the “single figure billions” of pounds range.

But US sanctions imposed in May are seen as having a critical impact on the Chinese firm, and an assessment by the National Computer Security Centre (NCSC) last week is thought to have found that the use of Huawei gear now poses an unacceptable security risk.

Five years

Vodafone and BT said last week they would need at least five years, and ideally seven, in order to remove Huawei equipment from their networks.

To do so in less time would cause widespread blackouts, the companies said.

Ministers had pushed for a 2023 deadline in order to have the removal process completed before the next General Election, the Telegraph has reported.

After initially proposing a 2029 deadline, the government agreed to compromise on a 2025 date, the paper said.

The US is to announce the results of a review of its May sanctions next week.

‘Impossible’ timeframe

But BT has made clear that the government has to give it time, if a full removal of Huawei kit is ordered.

It is known that BT’s network currently consist of two-thirds Huawei and one-third Nokia, and indeed BT’s EE network uses Huawei’s equipment to provide its 2G, 4G and 5G networks.

But it doesn’t end there.

The Openreach division for example uses Huawei to provide the “access technology” in its telephone exchanges to provide fibre to the premises (FTTP) broadband, and Huawei kit is also used in approximately 70,000 of Openreach’s roadside cabinets, which are used to provide fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) broadband connections.

“If you were to try and not have Huawei at all [in 5G] ideally we’d want seven years and we could probably do it in five,” BT’s chief executive Philip Jansen told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“If you wanted to have no Huawei in the whole of the telecoms infrastructure across the whole of the UK, I think that’s impossible to do in under 10 years.”

It should be remembered that three of the UK’s largest wireless providers (EE, Vodafone, and Three) all used Huawei equipment to build their 5G networks.

The only exception to this was O2, which instead opted to use 5G equipment from Ericsson and Nokia right from the start.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to chair a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) on Tuesday, at which a final decision over Huawei will be taken.

The Digital Minister Oliver Dowden is expected to announce the details to Parliament shortly afterwards.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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