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BT removes Huawei-made 4G equipment as concerns remain over espionage

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BT has started removing Huawei-made equipment from its 4G infrastructure as concerns remain about links between the company and the Chinese government.

Western governments have repeatedly accused Huawei, which was founded by a former engineer in the Chinese People's Liberation Army, of having strong links with the government.

While little proof of espionage has been demonstrated thus far, and Huawei has always disputed the claims, efforts to block major infrastructure installations by the company have been ramping up in recent years.

Governments in the US, New Zealand and Australia have already moved to block use of Huawei’s equipment as part of the future roll-out of 5G networks. 

Earlier this week, the head of MI6 also suggested the UK needed to decide if it was “comfortable” with Chinese ownership of the technology being used.

Huawei is currently the world's biggest network equipment maker ahead of Ericsson and Nokia.

BT said Huawei's equipment had not been used in the core of its fixed-line network, and it was removing it from the core of mobile networks it acquired when it bought operator EE.

“In 2016, following the acquisition of EE, we began a process to remove Huawei equipment from the core of our 3G and 4G mobile networks, as part of network architecture principles in place since 2006,” BT said.

“We’re applying these same principles to our current RFP (request for proposal) for 5G core infrastructure. As a result, Huawei has not been included in vendor selection for our 5G core.

“Huawei remains an important equipment provider outside the core network, and a valued innovation partner.”

This week, the chief of Britain's foreign intelligence services said that 5G reliance on Chinese technology was something Britain needed to discuss.

He said that the UK would have to make “some decisions” about such firms after other governments had taken steps to block them.

“We need to decide the extent to which we are going to be comfortable with Chinese ownership of these technologies and these platforms in an environment where some of our allies have taken a very definite position,” he said.

A recent report to the US congress by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission suggested the Chinese government “exerts strong influence over its firms”, and could “force Chinese suppliers or manufacturers to modify products to perform below expectations or fail, facilitate state or corporate espionage, or otherwise compromise the confidentiality, integrity, or availability” of devices and networks that use them.

In their own statement, the company said: “Huawei has been working with BT for almost 15 years. Since the beginning of this partnership, BT has operated on a principle of different vendors for different network layers.

“This agreement remains in place today. Since it acquired EE in 2016, the BT Group has been actively bringing EE’s legacy network architecture in line with this long-standing agreement. This is a normal and expected activity, which we understand and fully support.

“Working together, we have already completed a number of successful 5G trials across different sites in London, and we will continue to work with BT in the 5G era.”

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