Huawei just can’t get a break. BT said this week it will avoid using telecoms equipment from Chinese manufacturer Huawei in the core of its future 5G network, which will be operated by mobile subsidiary EE. And then, shockingly, Huawei’s’ chief financial officer who is also the daughter of the founder of Huawei, was arrested in Canada at the request of the United States.
Following a deluge of news reports, sparked by an article in the Financial Times that said BT would strip Huawei equipment out of its 4G core network within two years, the UK-based carrier has been forced to concede that Huawei has not been included in the vendor selection for its 5G core network.
In a prepared statement, a BT spokesperson said: “In 2016, following the acquisition of EE, we began a process to remove Huawei equipment from the core of our 3G and 4G networks, as part of network architecture principles in place since 2006. We’re applying these same principles to our current RFP for 5G core infrastructure. As a result, Huawei has not been included in vendor selection for our 5G core. Huawei remains an important equipment provider outside the core network and a valued innovation partner.”
However, it seems that Huawei has not been excluded entirely from BT’s 5G plans and looks set to remain a supplier of access equipment in both fixed and mobile networks.
Huawei itself has focused on that message: “As BT noted, ‘Huawei remains an important equipment provider and a valued innovation partner.’ Working together, we have already completed a number of successful 5G trials across different sites in London, and we will continue to work with BT in the 5G era,” a spokesperson for the vendor said.
The spokesperson added: “Huawei has been working with BT for almost 15 years. Since the beginning of this partnership, BT has operated on a principle of different vendors for different network layers. This agreement remains in place today. Since it acquired EE in 2016, the BT Group has been actively bringing EE’s legacy network architecture in line with this long-standing agreement. This is a normal and expected activity, which we understand and fully support.”
Although much of what is happening may be part of a long-held strategy at BT to exclude Huawei equipment from more sensitive areas of the core network, the reports from the UK will clearly be unwelcome to the vendor as it grapples with a flurry of negative publicity amid security concerns. Just days ago reports circulated that Alex Younger, head of the foreign intelligence agency MI6, said the UK government must decide if Huawei should be barred from running 5G networks in the country.
In another twist, the company’s CFO Meng Wanzhou has been arrested in Canada at the request of the U.S. government, causing outrage in China. Wanzhou was taken into custody in Vancouver on Dec. 1. The reason for United States’ extradition request has not been disclosed. A bail hearing is set for Friday.
The U.S. government has already reportedly been trying to pressure allies in countries such as Germany, Italy, and Japan to avoid using equipment from Huawei.
In August, the Australian government banned Huawei and ZTE from providing 5G equipment to that country’s telecom providers due to security concerns. New Zealand followed suit in December by blocking Huawei equipment from 5G networks. In November, Germany was considering a similar ban.
Huawei has been monitored in the UK for some time: in 2010, the British government, Huawei, and carriers including BT established the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC) Oversight Board, to review the security of the equipment. However, the fourth independent audit was completed in July 2018 “with no high or medium priority findings.”
EE, meanwhile, has been working fairly closely with Huawei on 5G over the past two years. In November 2017, for example, it demonstrated 2.8 Gb/s download speeds across an end-to-end 5G test network in its UK mobile lab in partnership with the vendor.
The UK mobile operator has since announced that it plans to launch 5G in 16 cities in 2019, with virtualized network functions on a cloud native infrastructure. It intends to upgrade 1,500 sites next year and is also upgrading transmission to 10 Gb/s links at each 5G site.