BT CEO: Hasty Huawei ban could lead to UK mobile outages

(Image credit: BT)

BT CEO Philip Jansen is confident that “common sense” will prevail when the government delivers its ruling on the future role of Huawei in the UK.

The Chinese mobile giant is a major supplier of all four major UK operators and in January it was confirmed that he company could play a role in the rollout of 5G.

The new rules effectively preserved the status quo by banning Huawei kit from the core layer of the network but permitting the use of the firm’s radio gear, subject to a 35 per cent cap.

Huawei UK ruling

However in the light of new sanctions imposed by the US – which considers Huawei to be a security threat – the government has been reconsidering its stance. A decision is expected in Tuesday and there is growing speculation that a ban on Huawei kit is likely.

Operators had argued that a ban on Huawei kit would increase costs, reduce innovation, and cause serious disruption to 5G rollouts. However most networks now seem resigned to the fact that a ban will be issued and have turned their attention to minimising the impact of any restrictions.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Jansen said an accelerated timetable for the removal of Huawei kit would be hugely disruptive in terms of build out and service quality.

 He said the costs would be significant, the rollout of full fibre and 5G would be delayed, and that short-term security could be jeopardised to a degree beyond any risk posed by the use of  the company’s networking gear.

“[Removing Huawei from the UK telecoms ecosystem entirely] is impossible to achieve with ten years,” he said. “[For 5G], ideally we’d want seven years and we could probably do it in five.

“If we get in a situation where things need to go very, very fast then you’re into a situation where potentially service for 24 million BT Group mobile customers is put into question. Outages would be possible.

“Secondly, the security and safety of the short-term could be put at risk. If we’re not able to buy or transact with Huawei when we wouldn’t be able to get software upgrades. Over the next five years, we’d expect 15-20 big software upgrades. If you don’t have those then you’re running gaps in critical software that could have bigger implications than anything we’re talking about in terms of managing a 35 per cent cap in the access network in a mobile operator.

“Thirdly … If you accelerate the rip out then you’re not building, are you?”

“BT is talking with all parts of government to make sure everybody understands all the information and a sensible decision is reached. I’m confident that common sense will prevail and we will head down the right direction.”

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.