BT’s EE Launches 5G Test Network in London using Huawei Equipment

BT-owned mobile operator EE has launched a 5G test network in Canary Wharf, London ahead of a full commercial rollout next year.  As the cUK’s largest mobile operator by subscribers, the launch by EE is a landmark moment in the UK’s path to 5G.

Fotis Karonis, 5G Technology Lead at BT Group, said:

“This is the latest milestone in our 5G rollout – a live test of our 5G network, in a hugely busy ‘hotspot’, where we know there’s going to be demand from customers for increased mobile capacity.

With constant upgrades to 4G, and laying the foundations for 5G, we’re working to always be able to deliver what our customers need – both consumers and the vertical industries that will make the greatest use of 5G.

We were UK pioneers with 4G and today we saw the UK’s first live connections on 5G – this is a huge step forward for our digital infrastructure.”

EE announced it would be launching the 5G network back in June, promising it to be the UK’s first proper test. Some expected mobile operator O2 to beat it after plans to launch its own test bed at the O2 Arena, but EE was first to market.

The current network covers Montgomery Square in Canary Wharf and was selected by EE for its high footfall and data usage. Some 150,000 people visit the square each day, providing a better test of how the network will perform in high traffic areas.

Mark Nallen, Head of Technology and Innovation at Canary Wharf Group, commented:

“Staying at the forefront of connectivity and new technologies is critical to our community, and that’s why we’re partnering with BT Group to support delivery of 5G.

The consumers who live and work here will benefit from being better connected, and the enterprises based here will have the chance to partner with BT Group to understand the full capabilities of 5G.”

The equipment at the site will also be hooked up to a lab core network, which functions as  a replica of EE’s commercial core network, and will link up to other test sites as and when they come online. Walling it off also means that it’s possible to test 5G in whatever ways are necessary without having any impact on existing services.

Another testbed is set to launch in Shoreditch later this year, which will present different challenges to the Montgomery Square tests. Mainly because it isn’t as ‘clean’ an area. Exactly when it will happen isn’t clear yet.

EE is using network equipment by Huawei for its test; along with 3.4 GHz spectrum it won in regulator Ofcom’s auction earlier this year.  The use of Huawei’s equipment continues to be a controversial subject.

In Europe, Huawei is relatively welcome and its highly-regarded equipment used by many operators. Australia, however, recently took the decision to follow the U.S. in banning the Chinese vendor’s equipment over national security concerns.

The U.S. and Australia are part of the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence sharing partnership which also includes the UK, Canada, and New Zealand. The US is said to be pressuring its partners to follow suit.

Last month, Canadian security officials went on record to say the country has the necessary safeguards in place not to follow the bans of the US and Australia.  Canada is attempting to make the case to its partners that excluding telecoms equipment manufacturers leads to an increased security risk. If a specific vendor’s equipment is compromised, it would represent a larger proportion of the network.

Rather than ban Huawei, the UK and Canada have both established labs where security officials test equipment for potential vulnerabilities.

Testing equipment rather than banning seems to be a more sensible approach. This week, India announced it would be testing Huawei 5G gear. Competition is good for prices and innovation, while bans would prevent companies such as EE from accessing potentially class-leading equipment.


One thought on “BT’s EE Launches 5G Test Network in London using Huawei Equipment

  1. UK warns telecoms groups to check security of 5G suppliers
    he UK has warned its telecoms companies to consider their suppliers carefully as they build 5G networks, in a move that industry figures said was targeted at Huawei, the Chinese equipment maker.

    Matthew Gould, the head of digital policy at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and Ciaran Martin, the head of the National Cyber Security Centre, wrote to several telecoms companies warning them that their 5G supply chain may be affected by a review of the UK’s telecoms infrastructure that was launched in July.

    The letter said the review aimed to ensure that Britain’s “critical national infrastructure remains resilient and secure”.

    It did not mention Huawei by name, but said the “outcome of the review may lead to changes in the current rules” and that the companies “will need to take the review into consideration in any procurement decisions”.

    Matthew Howett, principal analyst at Assembly Research, a research house that focuses on regulation and policy in the communications market, said: “I doubt we would have seen this if it was Nokia or Ericsson.”

    Telecoms executives said the government may be pushing operators to make sure Huawei is only one of a diverse range of suppliers. But they also said it was possible that the Chinese company could be barred from the rollout of 5G in the UK, a move that would delay networks that are due to come online in 2019 and 2020.

    Both the US and Australia have blocked Chinese suppliers, including Huawei, on security grounds from being used as telecoms operators begin to build and test the next generation of mobile network.

    In April, the NCSC warned telecoms companies not to use China’s ZTE as a supplier because of concerns over the “long-term negative effect on the security of the UK”.

    The NCSC added in July that it was concerned over “shortcomings” in Huawei’s engineering processes that expose British telecoms networks to “new risks”, including a cyber attack.

    A government spokesperson played down the threat to Huawei, saying: “This is not a binary review of the country of origin of telecoms suppliers. It is about ensuring we have the right overall framework in place to ensure secure and resilient telecoms networks.”

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    BT, via its EE mobile arm, has launched a 5G test network using Huawei equipment in Canary Wharf in east London and Three has signed a deal with the Chinese company to supply 5G radio access equipment. Three took 18 months to select Huawei and kept the NCSC up to date with its plans throughout the process.

    Mr Howett said the latest letter had arrived “too late” to be credible.

    Any move to ban Huawei would mean UK networks could only realistically use 5G hardware from Nokia, Ericsson or Samsung.

    Huawei is seen as a cheaper and more advanced supplier than some of their rivals, said two people with direct knowledge of network equipment procurement plans.

    Huawei has been a core part of the UK telecoms supply chain since winning a contract with BT in 2005 and has expanded its footprint across Europe since. The company declined to comment.

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