Company no longer using Huawei equipment in existing 3G and 4G networks, removing hardware from “core” of 5G service

BT has confirmed reports in the Financial Times that it is stripping Huawei equipment from existing EE 3G and 4G core mobile operations and future 5G core operations.

Speaking to The Register, the UK telco dismissed claims that the removal of Huawei hardware was a response to concerns raised by MI6 chief Alex Younger on Monday.

Younger said that Britain needs to innovate faster than countries like China and questioned the country’s reliance on Chinese hardware, saying that Britain needed to decide how comfortable it is ‘with Chinese ownership of these technologies’.

Some have questioned the timing of Younger’s speech, in a week where the US government encouraged its allies to shun Huawei hardware. The security chief does not make a habit of speaking in public.

Business as usual

But a BT spokesperson told The Register that it began the process of removing Huawei equipment from its core 3G and 4G mobile operations in 2016 after it acquired EE, a process it says is in line with its “network architecture principles”.

“We’re applying these same principles to our current RFP for 5G core infrastructure. As a result, Huawei have not been included in vendor selection for our 5G core,” said the spokesperson.

Huawei kit has been in Britain for almost two decades and is already subject to stringent inspection. In 2010, a special facility in Banbury was set up by the British government, Huawei and telecom operators to review the Chinese hardware firm’s kit.

“We have never had a cybersecurity-related incident,” said Huawei, who has been working with EE since 2012. “Huawei has a robust cyber security assurance system and a proven track record.”

Mounting international concern

The news comes as the US government urges its allies to remove Huawei hardware from its critical infrastructure, over fears about the integrity of its Chinese-made chips.

New Zealand and Australia have stopped its operators from using the firm’s hardware in new 5G networks over concerns about possible Chinese government involvement in their communications infrastructure – concerns Beijing vehemently denies.

Cybersecurity expert and IT veteran David Kay said the news gives him no reason to doubt the “skills and integrity” of Huawei professionals and has urged BT to release a thorough report justifying its decision.

“During my time in the IT Industry I met and worked alongside a number of Huawei professionals whom I regarded highly,” he said.

“We need to know there is substance and grist to justify this measure. The UK’s Intelligence services appear to have been closely involved in this latest episode at BT and it’s certain that there will be additional information not yet in the public domain,” he added.

“I have a great respect for BT too and they have a chance to publish a more detailed rationale in the coming weeks.”