BT wants extension to Huawei kit rip-out deadline

BT has confirmed it wouldn’t mind having a bit more time to rip out Huawei equipment from its network, the process having been impeded by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“A short extension would be reasonable,” a company spokesperson said, highlighting the fact that the exceptional circumstances of the past couple of years have naturally had a material impact on the kit replacement programme.

The UK incumbent made the comments in response to a piece published by Bloomberg, which reported that the telco has applied to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) for more time to comply with government rules on the use of Chinese equipment. The newswire quoted BT Chief Technology Officer Howard Watson as saying that the the lockdowns that came with the pandemic slowed the transition from replacing Huawei equipment in the core network to that made by Ericsson.

Lest anyone should have forgotten, the UK government banned Huawei from supplying 5G network equipment to domestic telcos two years ago. It ruled that no new equipment from Huawei would be permitted after the end of that year, but clearly could not expect operators to replace all existing kit immediately. As such, it set a deadline of end-2027 for the UK networks to be completely Huawei-free, but there are also a number of interim dates for operators to adhere to, including the requirement to have all Huawei kit out of the core by 28 January 2023.

It is that interim deadline that is in question here. And that’s completely understandable, given that while the concept of pulling out one vendor’s equipment and replacing it with another’s sounds simple enough, it’s actually a pretty big undertaking. BT has millions of mobile customers using its networks to consider; continuity of services must be a prime consideration.

That said, it’s important to point out that BT has not said that it absolutely needs an extension to the deadline. The telco notes that despite its request to the government, it is still working toward the initial 28 January date. At least until DCMS makes a decision on whether or not to allow a push-back.

“We continue to liaise with DCMS and the NCSC [National Cyber Security Centre] to ensure our programme can be completed as quickly and safely as possible and remain confident that the final 2027 deadline for delivering new equipment throughout the 5G network is achievable,” the spokesperson said.

There has been no official response from DCMS, but a spokesperson for the department told Bloomberg it would provide an answer “in due course.” While the wheels of government often turn painfully slowly, you’d like to think they won’t hang about too much on this one.


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