BT selects Nokia to power up EE 5G

(Image credit: BT)

BT has agreed a deal with Nokia to use its radio gear in the EE 5G network, helping to fill the void left by Huawei’s exclusion from the UK market on national security grounds.

For 5G, most operators plan to adopt multi-vendor strategies that allow them to mix and match radio innovations from different suppliers. BT already uses Nokia equipment in its mobile network but had hoped to rely heavily on Huawei as well.  

The UK government’s ban on Huawei means BT cannot purchase anything from Huawei after this year and must remove any of its products from its infrastructure by 2027. These restrictions have led to concerns that reduced competition will delay rollouts, reduce innovation, and increase costs. BT itself has estimated there will be a £500 million bill.

BT Nokia 5G

However, BT has moved to mitigate any potential fallout, expanding its pre-existing relationship with Nokia to ensure the rollout of EE’s 5G network remains on track and will be able to deliver superior mobile connectivity and next-generation applications

Existing EE sites that use Nokia’s 5G radio equipment will be upgraded, while sites in other parts of the country will be equipped with new radio and base station technology. Nokia will also supply management software that will boost capacity, increase cost-efficiencies and lower latency.

The two will also work to upgrade EE’s 2G and 4G networks, while there is also scope for OpenRAN collaborations.

The deal immediately makes Nokia BT’s largest network partner and the two parties are confident that the expansion of their partnership will ensure EE can maintain its early leadership in the UK 5G space and fulfil BT’s converged networking ambitions.  

“In a fast-moving and competitive market, it’s critical we make the right technology choices,” said BT CEO Philip Jansen. “With this next stage of our successful relationship with Nokia we will continue to lead the rollout of fixed and mobile networks to deliver stand out experiences for customers.”

The deal is a huge boost for Nokia which has struggled in recent times due to the twin pressures of intense competition in the telecoms infrastructure market and the high cost of developing 5G technologies.

To win customers, Nokia is pitching itself as a ‘one-stop-shop’ for telcos and enterprises thanks to a portfolio extends across the radio, transport and core layers of the network. Key pillars of its proposition are software capabilities that enable automation and allow for more efficient, remote network management as well as the ability for customers to reuse existing hardware and spectrum assets.

“I am delighted that BT has extended its partnership with Nokia on 5G RAN, making Nokia BT’s largest infrastructure partner,” added Nokia CEO Pekka Lundmark, who replaced Rajeev Suri in August.

“Our two companies have collaborated for over a quarter of a century in order to deliver best-in-class connectivity to people across the United Kingdom. We are proud to support BT’s 5G network evolution and look forward to working even more closely together in the years to come.”

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.