BT Group chief security and networks officer Howard Watson revealed the operator expected to complete the removal of Huawei gear from its core network by the end of next month, during a strategy update where it also flagged a planned standalone 5G launch this year.

The company missed a deadline to remove the equipment at the turn of the year but had completed almost 99 per cent of the work at that point. It could, however, be landed with a fine.

Watson highlighted the outstanding infrastructure was “not for traffic”, explaining it was used for managing data bundles with an alternative platform in the process of being built.  

From the operator’s conversations with authorities on its efforts to remove Huawei kit they were “impressed by the amazing progress,” he added.

Away from its Huawei swap-out, the company’s chief networks officer Greg McCall highlighted the company was on-track to activate its commercial standalone 5G network later this year.

However, McCall reiterated comments made two years ago that it was not rushing the process and wanted to build the “right network at the right time”.

Noting work with Nokia and Ericsson and tests of network slicing and carrier aggregation, he added: “progress is good but we’re not rushing this. We want to get it right, we want to get the right level of quality and service that will enable us to differentiate and enable our customers to use core features of a 5G SA network”.

Rival Vodafone UK activated its first SA network sites in June 2023.     

On the opportunities for the next stage of 5G, McCall was bullish on the prospects of 5G Advanced and network slicing, the latter of which he claimed as a “very powerful thing” stating “I can definitely see for high [level] gamers and even people that want to work without interruption on our network, slicing is definitely going to be an option.”

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For high [level] gamers, even people that want to work without interruption on our network, slicing is definitely going to be an option

chief networks officer Greg McCall BT Group

The company is also positive on the opportunity around network-as-a-service, an advocate of the GSMA’s open gateway initiative and related opportunity around offering API access.   

Approaching sunset
While looking to the future the company is also in the process of cutting ties to legacy technology with the switch-off of 3G.  McCall said he was “delighted” by the progress made so far adding “we haven’t had to rollback any of the sites we’ve closed down”.

It has currently deactivated 13,500 3G sites comprising around 73 per cent of previous capacity. It expects the process to be completed within weeks.

He added not only was the move a positive for users, given the improved service of 4G and 5G, but also a boon for energy usage reduction and associated cash saving for the company.