BT and Vodafone have told UK lawmakers they would need at least five years to swap out equipment from Huawei if the government decides on strict rules that would ban the company’s products from being used in 5G mobile networks.
It would cost Vodafone on the lower end of “single-figure billions” to swap out its thousands of Huawei base stations and antennas across the country, according to Andrea Dona, Vodafone’s head of UK networks, speaking to the British Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee Thursday.
Dona said it would take a minimum of five years to swap Huawei out without disruption.
Howard Watson, BT’s chief technology and information officer, agreed and said it would take “ideally seven” because of the practical limitations on closing streets and dispatching engineers to sites.
“It is logistically impossible, I believe, to get to zero in a three-year period,” said Watson, referring to the time frame targeted by some Tory party lawmakers.
“That would literally mean blackouts for customers on 4G and 2G as well as 5G throughout the country.”
BT says it could cost “tens to a hundred million” beyond the 500 million pounds the company already earmarked for complying with rules imposed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in January, which limit Huawei’s presence to 35 per cent of 5G and fibre optic networks outside sensitive core components, where they will be banned by 2023.
BT has tried swapping Huawei antenna sites to those of Nokia and Ericsson, Watson said. He was pressed by members of Parliament on the company’s use of Huawei in its 4G core, and repeated BT’s position that it is set to be swapped to an Ericsson core before 2023.
About two-thirds of BT’s 4G mobile network is Huawei and the rest Nokia, while about a third of Vodafone’s 4G network is Huawei and the rest Ericsson, the executives said. Huawei makes up most of BT’s 5G at the moment, BT’s Watson confirmed.
British officials are currently weighing a report from the National Cyber Security Centre, which has investigated the impact of US sanctions introduced in May on Huawei’s use of American technology in the semiconductors inside its products.