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BT refuses to let Huawei bid for core 5G infrastructure

BT has confirmed that it refused to let the Chinese tech firm Huawei bid to supply any of its core 5G infrastructure.

In a statement shared with NS Tech this afternoon, BT stressed that the decision represented the continuation of an existing policy, which began in 2016 with the removal of Huawei equipment from the core of EE’s 3G and 4G networks.

“We’re applying these same principles to our current RFP for 5G core infrastructure,” BT said. “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.”

But the move, which was first reported by the Financial Times, has come to light following a series of warnings by Western governments about the security risks posed by Chinese technology. Last week, one of New Zealand’s biggest mobile carriers revealed it had been blocked from using Huawei components in its 5G infrastructure – and earlier this week, the head of MI6 used a public speech to warn of the risks of Chinese components.

Huawei has traditionally enjoyed a warmer relationship with the UK than some other Western nations. Its work in the UK is an integral part of its international marketing strategy, and serves to convince other Western governments that its products can be trusted.

But cracks began to emerge over summer when the government revealed shortcomings in products supplied by Huawei to the UK’s telecoms networks, and warned they may pose a risk to national security.

The Chinese multinational’s products reportedly presented a number of technical issues, including point vulnerabilities and more strategic architectural and process problems. Huawei said at the time it was committed to addressing the issues.

Last month, the government sent a letter to telecoms companies warning them that an upcoming infrastructure review may lead to a change of rules for supply chain procurement. As the FT reported, the move was widely believed to be aimed at Huawei.

Commenting on BT’s decision, a spokesperson for Huawei said:  “Huawei has been working with BT for almost 15 years. Since the beginning of this partnership, BT has operated on a principle of different vendors for different network layers. This agreement remains in place today. Since it acquired EE in 2016, the BT Group has been actively bringing EE’s legacy network architecture in line with this long-standing agreement.”

“This is a normal and expected activity, which we understand and fully support. As BT noted, ‘Huawei remains an important equipment provider and a valued innovation partner.’ Working together, we have already completed a number of successful 5G trials across different sites in London, and we will continue to work with BT in the 5G era.”