Huawei: BT says 'impossible' to remove all firm's kit in under 10 years

BBC Technology 13 Jul 2020 10:23
By Leo Kelion Technology desk editor
Huawei logoImage copyright Getty Images

BT's chief has said it would be "impossible" to remove Huawei from the whole of the UK's telecoms infrastructure before 2030.

The government is expected to say that no new 5G equipment from the Chinese firm can be installed after 2021, and that all its existing 5G kit must be removed later - possibly by 2025.

But it is unclear if similar deadlines will also be given for Huawei's other mobile and broadband gear.

A statement will be made on Tuesday.

"If you were to try and not have Huawei at all [in 5G] ideally we'd want seven years and we could probably do it in five," BT's chief executive Philip Jansen told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"If you wanted 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."

BT's EE network uses Huawei's equipment to provide its 2G, 4G and 5G networks.

Huawei also provides about 70,000 of Openreach's roadside cabinets, which are used to provide fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) broadband connections. However, BT does not expect to be ordered to replace these, as they will be superseded in time by FTTP technology.

He added that it would still need to install software provided by Huawei for some time to come.

"If you don't have those software upgrades, you're running gaps in critical software that could have security implications."

Boris Johnson will chair a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) on Tuesday, at which a final decision over Huawei will be taken.

The review has been prompted by new US sanctions which disrupt Huawei's ability to make its own chips, and are likely to force it to rely on those made by others.

"We want to race ahead and have the best form of internet connectivity," Justice Secretary Robert Buckland told the BBC.

Huawei continues to press its case with the government. It denies claims that it poses a national security risk, and has suggested it could guarantee its UK clients supply of equipment made with its own chips for years to come.

Washington is hoping that if the UK takes a tougher line against Huawei, that other countries - including France, Germany and Canada - will follow.

The last-minute lobbying has been intense as government prepares to make a its new decision on Huawei.

Conservative backbenchers have been vocal the other way, describing the minimum action they believe is needed to avoid a rebellion when legislation comes to parliament in the autumn.

And that means that as just as the lobbying did not stop after the original January decision, it may continue after whatever happens next.

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