UK operator BT appealed for an extension to a government deadline to remove Huawei equipment from its core network, reflecting the significant Covid-19 (coronavirus) impact to its progress over the last two years.

The government had originally given operators in the UK until January 2023 to remove all of Huawei’s equipment from core parts of their networks and cap use in access networks to 35 per cent.

In February, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) decided to postpone the access network requirement by six months to end July-2023, over pandemic-related difficulties.

BT has now lodged a request with DCMS for a further extension for the core network element, arguing the same rationale should apply.

The operator stated it was working towards the January 2023 deadline, but “requested a necessary, short extension to reflect significant Covid-driven impacts to the programme over the past two years”.

It pointed to restrictions placed on access to sites, limited resource availability, and delayed hardware testing and deployment, all of which led to significant planning delays and staff absences.

As well as the removal in core and access parts of networks, the UK government has ordered operators to remove Huawei equipment completely by 2027, due to the company being labelled a “high-risk vendor”, which poses a threat to national security.

BT added it continued to liaise with DCMS and the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) to ensure its programme can be completed quickly and safety, adding it remains “confident that the final 2027 deadline for delivering new equipment through the 5G network is achievable”.

Huawei has strenuously denied its equipment is a threat.