October 22, 2021

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Rip and replace is such a long Huawei to go, UK telcos plead, citing ‘blackouts’ and ‘billion pound’ costs: Are Vodafone and BT playing ‘Job Fear’?

Analysis The caution couldn't be more stark. In a meeting with the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee yesterday, execs from BT and Vodafone warned UK lawmakers that a deadline of 2023 to remove Huawei-made equipment from their networks will result in multi-day mobile signal losses for some customers. "To get to zero in a…

Analysis The care couldn’t be more stark. In a conference with the Commons Science and Innovation Select Committee the other day, execs from BT and Vodafone warned UK legislators that a deadline of 2023 to get rid of Huawei-made equipment from their networks will result in multi-day mobile signal losses for some customers.

” To get to absolutely no in a three-year period would literally mean blackouts for clients on 4G and 2G, as well as 5G, throughout the country,” declared Howard Watson, chief technology and information officer of the BT Group, and a 40- year veteran of the telecoms industry.

He stated BT would need at a minimum of five years to expunge Huawei from its facilities, “anything less than that, we would have to stop doing 5G”.

Vodafone, which uses Huawei’s facilities in its 2G, 3G, 4G, and 5G networks, made a similar case.

Echoing those issues, Andrea Dona, head of networks at Vodafone UK, cautioned that customers would lose their signal, “sometimes for a number of days, depending upon how huge or how intrusive the work to be performed is.” Like Watson, Dona has a similarly storied CV, having formerly held management functions at Ericsson and T-Mobile.

She stated Vodafone would likewise require to “decrease our 5G implementation” if demands to change Huawei in “extremely tight time” were made. Dona stated Vodafone would not have the manpower to perform this engineering job, would need to recruit and felt 5 to 7 years was more sensible.

The comments made by Vodafone and BT, which had both been gotten in touch with by the Committee for comment, are yet another cliffhanger in the Huawei omnibus, the current episode of which sees the Chinese networking bogeyman at threat of losing its UK empire as a direct consequence of the continuous US sanctions

Earlier this month, Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport told LBC Radio that the “reliability” of Huawei was now in concern The federal government is expected to make a decision later this month on whether it will force networks to get rid of Huawei-made devices in its whole.

” In relation to Huawei, we’ve had these US sanctions that were imposed a couple of months earlier I have actually asked the National Cyber Security Centre to analyse the effect of them,” Dowden informed LBC’s Nick Ferrari today.

Philip Jansen, chief exec, BT plc. Pic: BT

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” It appears most likely they’re going to have a significant impact on the dependability of Huawei.

No formal declaration

The government is yet to formally announce any decision. Nor has it announced a timeframe. However, there is an expectation that carriers would be given a three-year deadline. Although this is crushingly brief (Watson and Dona recommended five or seven years would be needed to complete the work), it would conclude prior to the UK’s 2024 basic election, and therefore be immune from the typical party-political disturbance.

While this is (clearly) dire for Huawei, it’s likewise possibly extremely harming for networks.

Talking To The Register, analyst Paolo Pescatore of CCS Insight highlighted that a lot of UK providers have actually established an intimate relationship with Huawei, elevating its equipment to a high level of significance. As time as dragged on– and as Beijing has actually developed into a higher geopolitical enemy for the West– that relationship has established into something of a double-edged sword.

In his testimony to the committee, Dona claimed that Vodafone would need to invest “single-figure billions” to replace Huawei’s equipment from its network. The firm previously said it would cost EUR200 m to get rid of Huawei from its European core networks That’s without factoring in the non-core RAN.

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BT– traditionally among Huawei’s most significant UK consumers– claims it would invest ₤500 m simply to fulfill the government’s previous limitation of 35 per cent “high danger” devices in non-core networks

And, as Huawei has repeatedly objected in recent months, any rip-and-replace required would take in the attentions of the UK’s telcos, eventually slowing the implementation of 5G and other related innovations– like 5G standalone (SA). As one market insider informed the BBC, it would be “like doing heart surgical treatment in the middle of a marathon.”

Echoing that sentiment, Victor Zhang, vice president of Huawei, told The Register: “Huawei’s main concern has always been to provide the mobile networks with world-leading technology so they can keep the British individuals connected 24/ 7, particularly during this tough time.

In short, BT and Vodafone have lots to lose from a wholesale Huawei ban. On a very basic level, it would put them at a steep competitive disadvantage, especially when compared to rival carrier O2, which has actually largely avoided Huawei in favour of package from Nokia and Ericsson, and as such would be enabled to run without any burdensome constraints.

However there’s an argument to be made that because BT and Vodafone have the most to lose, they’re incentivised to overemphasize the potential consequences.

One analyst, John Stand of Hair Consulting, has actually argued that the figures provided by BT and Vodafone don’t match the amount historically invested in “high risk” kit from ZTE and Huawei. (China’s ZTE is already prohibited from the UK, and was also included in the classification of “high threat” vendors.)

He also stated that much of the existing Huawei-made kit was currently due to be refreshed, as it had reached its life-span. The figures pointed out by BT and Vodafone represented cash that needed to be invested anyway, he declared.

The cost, however, will not be merely derived from obtaining brand-new hardware, stated Gartner’s senior director of research study Sylvain Fabre. Moving network and consumer information will require time (and hence, cash), and telcos will also be on the hook for training engineers to manage and deploy the replacement hardware.

” For a brand-new supplier, or when switching set, engineers require to qualify on the kit,” Fabre explained.

Hair likewise argued that any downtime would make BT look bad compared to its regional competition, all of which face pressure to change devices from Huawei with options viewed to be “safer.”

While this might be true, Gartner’s Fabre pointed out that there’s a lot networks can do to avoid disruption.

” The threat for interruptions can be reduced by dealing with limited areas of the network at a time, in the hours of low use (nighttime maintenance window) and with a roll back treatment as a backup in case of concerns,” he stated. ®

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