Speaking to the House of Commons Defence Sub-Committee, both BT and Vodafone have suggested the 2027-end deadline to remove all Huawei 5G equipment is satisfactory.

Jamie Davies

July 29, 2020

3 Min Read
BT and Vodafone happy with Huawei removal timetable

Speaking to the House of Commons Defence Sub-Committee, both BT and Vodafone have suggested the 2027-end deadline to remove all Huawei 5G equipment is satisfactory.

Removing Huawei from the network is similar to asking an IT technician to run a marathon. If the race is tomorrow, it will be an absolute disaster, but if enough time has been afforded to prepare, it is much more likely to be successful.

This is effectively what the 2027-end deadline is for the telecoms operators. It is an opportunity to consider the engineering complexities of reimagining the network, a timeline which gives the best chance at minimising disruption. Let’s not forget, network deployment is not only incredibly expensive, but it is a bureaucratic nightmare and very time consuming.

Ericsson seems to be the winner in the short- and mid-term, though the OpenRAN ecosystem should certainly be getting more investment in the UK.

“We are happy on the decision for 2027 because it gives us time to do that swap without major disruption to our networks and enables us to have time to develop the OpenRAN ecosystem as an alternative supplier,” said Petty. “Any time shorter than that it would be difficult to complete the engineering task without disrupting the network.”

“We welcome the clarity, and we welcome the fact 2027 has been discussed,” said Watson. “We had a lot of conversations with Government about the possibility of doing that more quickly, and in all case concluded this would create significant network outages for customers, effectively blackouts across 2G and 3G as well as the 5G network.”

But what politicians and rule makers will have to understand is that this is not only a question about 5G networks. 5G cannot be isolated from 4G in UK networks in the way some would imagine; any material changes to 5G would force some very big alterations to the 4G network.

“We have been deploying 5G radio access network on top of our 4G network,” said Petty. “5G today is called non-standalone mode and depends on the underlying 4G network to be deployed.”

“We have been rolling out using the non-standalone solution, which means the 5G equipment is inextricably linked to the underlying 4G network,” said Watson. “Because I [BT] initially launched in the more urban areas of the UK, and that is coincidentally where I have most of my Huawei 4G kit, we do have quite a bit of work to do now to start swapping out 5G/4G kit from Huawei to alternative vendors.”

Both are working with Nokia, and Ericsson makes up the remaining 65% of Vodafone’s network, while Watson said BT is working through trials with the Swedes. The current supplier ecosystem should be sufficient to meet the 35% limitation on ‘high risk vendors’ by 2023, but there will need to be more diversity in the supplier ecosystem should these telecoms operators want a healthy equation in 2027.

“We would like to see further diversification of the supply chain, and we began trialling OpenRAN technology in the UK in a number of rural sites, and we are working with the Government and a number of other operators to drive scale in the OpenRAN environment to make an opportunity to create further diversification,” said Petty.

Huawei and ZTE are out of the question, while Samsung has already ruled itself out by not supporting 2G and 3G technologies. For healthy competition in the UK supply chain, the OpenRAN ecosystem becomes very important. A lot of eggs are being placed in a disproportionately hyped basket for the moment.

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