A BT engineer at work. The telecoms group is stripping out Huawei-made equipment from its EE mobile network business  © Reuters

BT has delayed the timetable for stripping out Huawei-made equipment from its existing systems despite awarding a new contract to Ericsson to provide a new core network.

The telecoms group said at the end of 2018 that it would strip out all equipment made by the Chinese company from the most sensitive part of its EE mobile phone network within two years but has now abandoned that target.

Howard Watson, BT’s chief technology officer, told the Financial Times that meeting government restrictions introduced in January on the use of Huawei equipment in the periphery of the network meant its original deadline was no longer possible. 

“It is logistically unnecessary. To push ahead at that pace would not make a lot of sense,” said Mr Watson. He declined to provide a new date for the full extraction of Huawei’s equipment from the core beyond saying it would be before the government’s deadline of 2023. 

The UK has placed a ban on the use of Huawei equipment in the core — where customer details are stored and processed — of Britain’s 5G telecoms networks by 2023 on national security grounds. It has also imposed a limit of 35 per cent on the amount of non-core equipment, such as the kit on masts and rooftops, that can be provided by the Chinese group. 

EE used Huawei in its core network when it launched 4G services and some of those systems are also used to connect early adopters of its 5G service that launched last year. 

BT opened a tender a year ago to test equipment from the Chinese company’s rivals. After trialling options from Ericsson and Finland’s Nokia it has signed a wide-ranging deal with the Swedish company to combine the core of its 4G and 5G customer base using their technology.

Marielle Lindgren, head of Ericsson in the UK, said the new core would support a more advanced 5G service. “The UK is one of the front runners,” she said. 

Ericsson is battling Nokia and smaller rival Samsung to scoop up contracts in markets where Huawei can no longer fully compete. The BT contract win was described as “very significant” by Ms Lindgren given the UK’s influence on global telecoms. 

Disclosure of the Ericsson award comes shortly after the FT reported that Mike Rake, BT’s former chairman, has been appointed to Huawei’s UK board. 

Mr Watson expects the more advanced 5G services will be launched in 2022. 


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