Vodafone 'pauses' rollout of Huawei kit in its core networks

Vodafone says it will “pause” the deployment of Huawei’s telecommunications equipment in its core network until concerns from Western governments have been addressed.

Speaking at the publication of the company’s third quarter results, Vodafone Group CEO confirmed that it uses Huawei kit in core networks in Spain and a number of other smaller markets but would cease to do so for the time being.

This does not apply to Huawei’s radio equipment, which is used widely by Vodafone in other markets.

Vodafone Huawei

“We have decided to pause further Huawei in our core whilst we engage with the various agencies and governments and Huawei just to finalise the situation, of which I feel Huawei is really open and working hard," Read is quoted by Reuters as saying.

Some governments, most notably the US, have long been suspicious of Huawei because of perceived links to the Chinese government. They fear that the company would be obligated to insert backdoors into its equipment that would facilitate state-sponsored espionage and be a threat to national security.

Huawei has repeatedly denied any such accusations and its radio equipment has been used in mobile networks around the world. It is a key supplier for all the major operators in the UK and its kit is subject to monitoring by a dedicated GCHQ unit in Banbury.

However, Huawei’s kit has been used sparingly in UK core networks because of the sensitive data that is stored and processed there. After BT acquired EE in 2016, it started the process of replacing Huawei equipment in the operator’s 3G and 4G core networks, but will still use the company’s Radio Access Network (RAN)  

Huawei has long been frozen out of the US market, but the imminent arrival of 5G networks has resulted in several other countries expressing concern. Australia has banned Huawei from its 5G rollout, while Germany, Norway and the Czech Republic are among those to be considering the role of Huawei in their telecommunications infrastructure.

Vodafone 5G

The concern that some governments have is that 5G networks will allow operators to move certain functions from the core to the edge of the network, a process which will reduce latency and enable applications like the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), connected cars and even robotic surgery.

The argument that by moving these functions away from the relative security of the core to the edge increases the possibility of threats and means that current measures to mitigate them will become less effective.

But there will be little appetite in the industry for a widespread ban. Huawei has already signed more than 30 commercial contracts for 5G, with many operators believing the company’s equipment to be more innovative and cheaper than that from its competitors.

In November last year, Read expressed his support for Huawei: “Huawei is a major radio provider for the European sector. We have them in the radio transport layer and not in our core or security layers. It’s in the more neutral, passive part of hardware.

“Huawei is engaged with all the active security agencies in the UK and Europe and I think they’re doing everything they can to remain a serious and credible supplier to the industry.”

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.