BT misses deadline for removing Huawei from network core

Former British state telco claims only tiny percentage of voice and data traffic passes over kit

The deadline for UK telcos to remove Huawei equipment from their core networks has now passed, with BT admitting 2G and 3G services are still served by infrastructure that is not compliant. Yet it isn't clear what measures, if any, BT may face for this.

Britain's telecoms operators were served with formal legal notices by the government in November 2022, detailing their obligations to expunge kit from China-based Huawei, after the company was deemed a security risk.

As part of this, the companies were given a deadline of December 31, 2023 to cease using Huawei kit in their core networks. This was an extension from the previous deadline of January 28, 2023, which a number of operators (including BT) had complained they would struggle to meet.

Yet it appears that BT has now failed to meet this extended deadline, although the company claims that only a tiny fraction of the voice and data services it carries are now affected.

"All 4G and 5G data sessions and voice calls are now delivered by non-Huawei core equipment – meaning that over 99 percent of all core traffic is now being served by non-Huawei kit," a BT Group spokesperson told The Register in a statement.

The only voice and data services yet to be migrated are 2G and 3G, which accounts for less than 1 percent of its total traffic, the company claimed, adding that "We're working hard to complete this work."

It is understood that telecoms operators face being fined up to 10 percent of their turnover for failing to comply with the legal notice, or in the case of a continuing contravention, £100,000 ($126,611) per day.

However, any such action is unlikely to be taken immediately, as the country's telecoms regulator Ofcom has first to report on the progress that network operators have made on meeting these goals, and the relevant report is not due until 31 March this year.

"Government is responsible for setting and enforcing the rules requiring certain telecoms companies to remove Huawei equipment from their networks. Ofcom's role is to gather information on companies' progress and report this to Government," an Ofcom spokesperson told us today.

BT, which says it will provide more information to Ofcom with regard to regulation compliance, told us it has not formally requested an extension to the deadline.

However, some industry observers expect that there may be some flexibility on deadlines to avoid fines falling on companies that have made efforts to comply.

"I fully expect moves to extend it further to avoid any fines," telecoms analyst Paolo Pescatore at PP Foresight told us. "It underlines how reliant BT has been on Huawei and the complexities of removing a vendor entirely from both its fixed line and mobile networks," Pescatore added.

"The task should not be underestimated to ensure minimal disruption to all users (across all telcos), but mindful especially of EE's Emergency Services Network obligations," he said.

Mobile network operator EE is a brand within the BT Group.

BT had previously stated that complying with the requirement to remove Huawei from its network would cost it an estimated £500 million ($632 million) between 2020 and 2025. All Huawei equipment must be removed entirely from the UK's 5G networks by the end of 2027.

It is not yet clear if other telecoms operators have failed to meet the deadline relating to their core networks. We asked around, but had not received responses by the time of publication. All will likely be made clear by Ofcom's report in March. ®

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