BT removes Huawei kit from core EE 4G network

BT has confirmed it is removing all Huawei equipment from EE’s 4G core network as part of a long-running programme to bring the mobile division in line with the rest of the business.

The telco was one of the first companies outside China to agree a supply deal with Huawei back in 2005 but had pledged not to use the kit in its core network to ease any security concerns.

Huawei has since become a major partner for broadband and mobile providers around the world including several from the UK. This includes EE, which used Huawei kit for its core 3G and 4G networks prior to its 2016 acquisition by BT.

BT EE Huawei

The FT says BT has already removed most of the kit used in T-Mobile’s 2G networks while BT has confirmed to TechRadar Pro that the process was ongoing.

Huawei will remain a key supplier in EE’s 5G rollout, with its radio access network (RAN) expected to play a key role in connecting customers.

“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,” they said.

“We’re applying these same principles to our current RFP for 5G core infrastructure. As a result, Huawei have 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.”

Political pressure on operators to stop using Huawei kit in their networks has increased in recent months.

Huawei kit in the UK is subject to monitoring by a dedicated GCHQ unit, but the head of MI6 has recently suggested operators should consider the role of Chinese manufacturers in digital infrastructure.

The company has already been frozen out of the US market, although it does provide equipment to a number of smaller players in the country, while Australia has banned its operators from using Huawei equipment in their 5G rollouts on national security grounds. The company’s role in 5G rollout in New Zealand is currently under review.

It has also been reported that the US is urging its allies to take similar actions.

The main basis for these fears is a perception that Huawei is linked to the Chinese government and that the use of the company’s equipment risks the possibility of backdoors that could be used for espionage.

Huawei has repeatedly denied such accusations, pointing out that it works with security agencies around the world and that it sells products to more than 500 operators in 170 countries without issue.

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.