UK giant BT reportedly plans to remove all Huawei equipment from its mobile arm EE’s core 4G network within two years, a move that casts further doubt over the vendor’s role in the buildout of 5G in the country.

Financial Times (FT) reported the move is in line with an internal company policy of keeping Huawei equipment out of the core of its networks, a rule that has also been adopted by other UK telecoms providers for more than a decade.

BT has begun a process of replacing Huawei equipment in EE’s core 4G network, a process which is expected to take between 18 and 24 months, FT said.

The core of a telecoms network contains sensitive information including customer activity and personal details, heightening the importance of the kit used because of security concerns.

EE deal
BT first pledged not to use Huawei equipment in core networks in 2006, a year after signing its first deal with the Chinese vendor.

However, EE, which BT acquired in 2016, had used Huawei equipment to build its 3G and 4G networks, and the Chinese company’s enhanced packet core technology is still used in EE’s core network.

The move comes as pressure builds on the UK to make its stance clear on Huawei’s role in the buildout of future 5G networks.

The US, Australia and New Zealand have all moved to block the use of Huawei equipment in 5G rollouts on security grounds, and the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre has urged the country to decide if they want to follow.

There have also been calls to block Huawei equipment in Germany, Canada and Japan.

The FT reported BT had already excluded Huawei from bidding for contracts to supply equipment its core 5G network, but it is planning to use the company’s kit for Radio Access Network (RAN) infrastructure, such as equipment on masts (in line with the strategy from other UK operators).

BT also recently praised Huawei for its advancements in 5G, arguing that European vendor rivals Ericsson and Nokia had a lot of catching up to do.

Speaking at Huawei’s Mobile Broadband Forum (MBBF) Neil McRae, MD and chief architect at the company hailed Huawei as “the world’s one true 5G supplier”.