BT to extract Huawei tech from 4G infrastructure over security concerns


BT will remove Huawei's equipment from its 4G network within the next two years in order to comply with its policy to keep the Chinese giant on the edge of its core infrastructure.

Huawei's cloud-based "enhanced packet core" technology lies at the heart of the EE 4G network, which was purchased by BT in a wider 12.5 billion acquisition in 2015.

But according to the Financial Times (FT), BT is now moving to strip the Chinese tech from its infrastructure in order to abide by a 2006 pledge to keep equipment deemed a potential security risk on the peripheries of its network.

Huawei, and fellow Chinese telecoms giants ZTE, have been looked on with suspicion by telecoms firms and national governments across the world for a number of years, and are considered a potential risk to national security.

Earlier this year, for instance, an independent body deemed Huawei a potential risk to national security in the UK.

The Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC) Oversight Board's fourth annual report raised concerns that security risks hadn't been mitigated after shortcomings in the engineering process were flagged in previous years.

BT has now taken the step to extract Huawei equipment "from the core of our 3G and 4G networks as part of our network architecture principles in place since 2006", according to a BT spokesperson speaking to the FT.

The company has also blocked Huawei from bidding to supply its technology for use in BT's core 5G network but will continue to use the telecoms giant's equipment in parts of its infrastructure not considered "core". This amounts to areas outside of BT's "control plane" such as parts containing sensitive information like customers' activities and personal details.

The BT spokesman added that Huawei remained an "important equipment provider and a valued innovation partner", as the company continues to use its technology in several 5G trials it has launched across London.

The announcement follows a warning issued to firms by the government last month to be careful over which companies they choose as suppliers when building their 5G networks. The letter was seen by analysts to be directed at Chinese firms like Huawei and ZTE.

Paolo Pescatore, senior vice president of consumer services at MIDiA Research told IT Pro the pressure is mounting on telecoms firms with regards to the choice of their suppliers.

"Beyond security concerns, it is important to ensure that Huawei is not the sole provider of 5G networks," he said, adding the government's letter "served as a wake-up call".

Keumars Afifi-Sabet

Keumars Afifi-Sabet is a writer and editor that specialises in public sector, cyber security, and cloud computing. He first joined ITPro as a staff writer in April 2018 and eventually became its Features Editor. Although a regular contributor to other tech sites in the past, these days you will find Keumars on LiveScience, where he runs its Technology section.