The UK’s decision to ban telecoms firms from using Huawei equipment in developing the country’s 5G networks has cost BT £500m, Howard Watson, BT’s chief security and networks officer, said today.
The ban was implemented by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson back in July 2020 over concerns that using the Chinese company’s products posed a risk to national security. All existing Huawei equipment must now be removed from 5G networks by the end of 2027.
Watson told a London conference on Wednesday, however, that BT is “well on the way” to its target of removing Huawei from its mobile core by the end of this year.
Around 90 per cent of BT’s 5G mobile data is now running over their cloud network infrastructure with an Ericsson core, instead of a Huawei one, Watson said.
Vodafone’s chief network officer Andrea Donà told the conference that it has also made “good progress” in stripping out Huawei tech, but having to replace all the core infrastructure has been an “additional burden to an already constrained capital prioritisation process.”
“We don’t get any additional money when these things happen,” he said. “The net affect of the Huawei high-risk vendor swap legislation means we’ve had to scale back 5G.”
This is because instead of adding 5G on top of an existing site, telecom companies now must completely swap the sites before adding the 5G. Donà said this has put an “enormous strain” on the company’s capital expenditure and resources.
Vodafone is currently working to push through a potential merger with Three UK, which it claims will enable the UK to roll out 5G much faster through an £11bn investment. But the deal is yet to be approved by Britain’s competition watchdog.
A government spokesperson said: “The long-term security and enduring resilience of the UK’s telecoms network is of paramount importance.
“We have one of the strongest telecoms security regimes in the world, which we have used to designate Huawei a high-risk vendor, and have issued clear directions for telecoms operators to control its presence in their networks to protect this critical national infrastructure.”