BT Misses Deadline For Huawei Equipment Removal From Core Network

The UK government’s year-end deadline for BT to remove Huawei telecoms equipment from its core network has been missed.

UK carriers and telecom operators had been required to remove telecoms kit from China’s Huawei Technologies, over national security concerns. The deadline had been 31 December 2023, and required carriers to remove Huawei equipment from their core (i.e. central parts) of their network.

It should be noted that BT has actually removed almost all of the core telecoms infrastructure supplied by Huawei, but has yet to complete the process.

Core network

BT missing the deadline had been expected, after the UK carrier said last month it had not yet completed work to replace Huawei equipment in its core network ahead of the UK government’s December deadline.

That deadline had already been moved backwards, after the British government last year had sent legal notices to 35 UK telecoms network operators to officially enforce this deadline.

In October 2022 the UK government extended the deadline for UK operators to remove Huawei equipment from its core networks.

The UK government gave operators until 31 December 2023 to remove Huawei 5G kit from network cores, compared to an original target deadline of 28 January 2023.

It reportedly did so, after operators blamed delays caused by the Covid-19 lockdowns.

The December 2023 deadline is for operators to remove Huawei equipment, such as that used at phone mast sites and telephone exchanges, from their network “cores” – where some of the most sensitive data is processed.

However the end of 2027 deadline to completely eliminate all Huawei equipment from the UK’s 5G networks remains unchanged.

It was reported that penalties for missing the deadline could add up to £100,000 per day after 31 December.

BT told Silicon UK before Christmas that its focus was now on the core network.

“We’ve met our initial targets – both our radio access network (RAN) traffic levels and sites were below the levels required by the Government for its July 2023 deadline,” a BT spokesman told Silicon UK at the time. “Our focus is now on work in the core for the Government’s deadline.”

Missed deadline

But now the FT has reported that BT has failed to fully hit an end-of-year UK government deadline for removing telecoms equipment supplied by Huawei, after delays in migrating its 2G and 3G services.

However, government officials reportedly said UK carriers would be given some leeway, due to the difficulties in taking out essential parts of a network while still running services.

UK communications regulator Ofcom will report to the secretary of state by 31 March on UK carriers progress on the core network deadline.

A BT Group spokesperson told Silicon UK that it has already removed nearly all Huawei core equipment.

“All 4G and 5G data sessions and voice calls are now delivered by non-Huawei core equipment – meaning that over 99 percent of all core traffic is now being served by non-Huawei kit,” a BT spokesperson told Silicon UK on Wednesday.

It should be noted that removing Huawei from the core of BT’s live mobile network and migrating 30 million active customers across multiple platforms – while building a new 5G network and continuing to expand its 4G network – has been unprecedented task in terms of scale, cost and complexity for the UK carrier.

During this massive effort, BT’s primary concern has been to ensure the resilience and operational capability of its networks for its customers.

It is understood that only voice and data services yet to be migrated are 2G and 3G, which account for less than 1 percent of the total traffic.

It is understood that BT it is working hard to complete this work, and will provide more information to Ofcom as part of their statutory obligation to report to Government in March on compliance with the regulations.

Meanwhile it is also understood that BT remains on target for the end of 2027 deadline to remove Huawei from the access parts of its mobile network.

5G ban

The UK government, after many delays, had in July 2020 ordered all UK operators to remove equipment from ‘high risk vendors’ such as Huawei from Britain’s 5G network by 2027, over national security concerns.

In order to satisfy this order, 4G equipment from Huawei also had to be removed.

That ‘national security’ ban came into force from 31st December 2020, after which UK operators had to stop procuring new equipment from high risk vendors.

Huawei has always denied it poses a national security risk.

In September and October of 2020, BT had announced it would to use equipment from Nokia and Ericsson to replace Huawei kit.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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