Tuesday, 14 July 2020 13:47

BT chief says at least seven years needed to rip out Huawei gear Featured

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BT chief says at least seven years needed to rip out Huawei gear Pixabay

The chief executive of BT has told the BBC Radio 4's Today program that it would be impossible to remove equipment made by Chinese telecommunications equipment vendor Huawei Technologies from UK networks for at least seven years.

Philip Jansen also held out the possibility that there would be outages and possible security risks if Britain's telcos were ordered to stop doing business with the Chinese firm while the 5G network upgrade was in progress.

British Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden is due to tell Parliament the government's final position on the use of gear from Huawei on Tuesday.

Britain had announced in January that it would allow Huawei to supply up to 35% of gear for the non-core parts of 5G networks.

Based on this decision, which was leaked last May well before it was officially announced, Vodafone, O2, EE (a BT unit) and Three all rolled out 5G networks, and used Huawei gear in non-core parts of the network. Spanish group Telefonica owns O2 and it has used Huawei’s infrastructure in some of its other networks. O2 has no wide use of Huawei in the UK, but has a network-sharing agreement with Vodafone.

Following US pressure, applied on Prime Minister Boris Johnson when Washington was approached about a trade deal, Britain agreed to review its earlier stance. New American strictures on Huawei have been taken to mean that any risk mitigation which was possible earlier would not be possible now.

Jansen told the BBC program: “Huawei has been in the telecoms infrastructure for about 20 years and a big supplier to BT and many others in the UK telecoms industry.

“It is all about timing and balance. So if you want 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.”

He said the industry would want to be given a seven-year window to remove Huawei from the 5G network, but said “we could probably do it in five”.

Jansen added that there would be consequences for the UK due to rejecting business with a Chinese company. “At BT and in our discussions with GCHQ, we always take the [view] that security is paramount; it is our No 1 priority," he said.

“But we need to make sure that any change of direction doesn’t lead to more risk in the short term – I think that’s where the detail really matters. If we get in a situation where things need to go very fast, then we go into a situation where service for 24 million BT Group mobile customers is put into question – outages would be possible.

“Secondly, the security and safety in the short term could be put at risk – this is really critical here. If you are not able to buy or transact with Huawei that would mean you wouldn’t be able to get software upgrades if you take it to its specificity.”


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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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