back to article UK's BT: It's not unusual to pull Huawei from our core mobile networks

BT and Huawei said today that reports the Chinese kit-maker's products would not be used on EE's 3G and 4G core mobile ops – and that it was out of the running for any bids for the 5G core – should surprise no one. top of the bt tower BT to splash £550m integrating EE. Firm shrugs: Cheap! READ MORE The UK's incumbent telco …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fancy that

    When you folks at BT HQ and the Home Office and .... shut down and/or crapped on all the UK's indigenous telecoms equipment manufacturers, what the flip did you expect would happen?

    Thousands of people saw this coming. But who cares, there's corporate profits to be maximised.

    1. Mr Benny

      Re: Fancy that

      The problem with people who get high level board positions in the uk is:

      A) Theyre usually technologically and scientifically pjg ignorant

      B) Very often have sociopathic tendecies and dont care about anyone except themselves anyway

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Fancy that

        I'll finish the other side of that statement (taken as a given) for you:

        The problem with people who get current high-level Government positions in the UK...

        A) They are technologically and scientifically pig ignorant

        B) They have sociopathic tendencies and don't care about anyone except themselves anyway.

        I can hear #hashtags Amber Rudd, "El Reg techies sneering again".

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Fancy that

      Don't forget the companies themselves - Marconi was hardly the world's best managed firm for the years prior to their collapse.

      Completely overextended themselves in the 2000s tech bubble, including into the wrong technology (they spent billions on a supplier of ATM kit). Also over reliant on a single customer, guess who that was.

      1. Yorkshirefoxy

        Re: Fancy that

        Marconi was solvent with £1B in the bank when led by Lord Weinstock (It was called GEC before it became Marconi). Then Lord Simpson arrived and basically did everything that the city boys wanted and went on a spending spree so that the city could get their snouts in the troth of a once great company. Basically Simpson made the company go bust, but the City got their pay off!

        1. EnviableOne Bronze badge

          Re: Fancy that

          GEC Marconi went bust due to scope creep on the Nimrod AWACS project

          Every time they had the system working to Spec, MoD changed the scope so that 1B got sunk into the project, that then got canceled.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Nimrod/AWACS scope creep

            "GEC Marconi went bust due to scope creep on the Nimrod AWACS project"

            Nimrod/AWACS had many challenges, reasonably well documented e.g. via

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BAE_Systems_Nimrod_MRA4

            I spent a fair amount of time at Warton with the BAe employees and their long-staying US-originated colleagues (Boeing? Lockheed? Raytheon? and others), and a fair amount of time on various GEC/Marconi sites too. As Lewis Page used to say (as did many others before him), "lions led by donkeys". (And one or two of their lions weren't all that bright).

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "Marconi was hardly the world's best managed firm for the years prior to their collapse."

        Absolutely correct, Emperor Weinstock's multi-decade investment strike, the general GEC refusal to invest in people, processes, and products/technologies, a crisis of investment which can be traced back to the 1960s.

        Simpson and Mayo finished off GEC/Marconi, but Weinstock and friends set the direction.

        http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/3087333.stm

        "over reliant on a single customer, guess who that was"

        I don't need to guess, and if the larger GEC (not just Marconi) was considered there were different customers, but generally the same issues and the same outcome.

        "they spent billions on a supplier of ATM kt"

        I know. I saw it happen. I didn't work for GEC but I knew lots of folks that did. Here's a comment I posted earlier this year:

        "Marconi (and GPT and other parts of the former Weinstock empire) were on the way out long before Huawei came on to the scene. Weinstock and successors had been on a multi-decade investment strike, failing to invest in their people, products, and technologies (that's why GEC had to buy US companies Fore and Raltec at the peak of the dot con boom, because GEC had nothing of their own to sel into that marketl, and their historic approach of setting up a joint venture wasn't working, and GEC bought stuff they didn't understand that didn't fit what people wanted to buy)."

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Worth mentioning - BT have (silent-cover up) history here...BT Yahoo Mail.

      BT dropped BT Yahoo Mail, replaced it with their own in-house BT mail offering in March 2014 just around the time the first hacks occurred at Yahoo but crucially long before it all went public. Coincidence? I doubt it. It seems BT covered this up, but difficult to say, given no one investigated BT regards this.

      https://home.bt.com/pages/email/index2.html

      In fairness to BT, the distinct 'Network Layers' explanation sounds like due diligence on paper. In practice, it's a sure bet that doesn't happen at the coalface from what I know of BT.

      Interesting too that this issue was never raised as part of the CMA investigation into the takeover of EE by BT, with the bullshit key phrase that BT and EE operate in distinct and different markets.

      This clearly shows they operate in exactly the same market, as BT/EE combine the core networks of both, which was mentioned at the time on El Reg (comments or article).

      Just say'in, make your own conclusion, regarding BT. This company needs some serious regulation, Ofcom is an absolute joke.

      If we're really talking distinct 'Networking layers', more than just protocol. I'd like to see a payroll/credit check audit of all Ofcom Employees for a start, removal of secondments of BT Staff to Ofcom and vice versa.

      BT have Ofcom in their pocket.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Gov't worried over Chinese ownership?

    If that's really the case, they might want to explain why they're building Hinkley Point C with a load of Chinese money, plan to allow Sizewell C with an even greater share of Chinese money, and then plan for Bradwell B to be built to a largely Chinese design with Chinese money....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Gov't worried over Chinese ownership?

      "they might want to explain why ...."

      Because the London Government want to take back control from foreign powers? Hmmmm.... nope, that one doesn't fit yet does it. Can I have another go tomorrow?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Gov't worried over Chinese ownership?

      Do what we say, not what we do.

  3. Sanctimonious Prick
    Facepalm

    It's Just Retarded!

    So, since the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC) Oversight Board, and lack of any evidence of wrongdoing, they're still going to remove Huawei from the core infrastructure?

    That's, just, I dunno. It's retarded. It doesn't make any sense!

    1. David Shaw

      Re: It's Just Retarded!

      "doesn't make any sense"

      it depends how wide the picture is, if you look not just at the HD, nor 4K. . .

      combine with the fact that the daughter of Huawei founder, who is CFO for Huawei, has just been arrested whilst in transit through 5-eyes, sorry Canada.

      When I was last at ETSI (european telecommunications standards institute) TC CYBER and I saw that the telco network infrastructure development was going software defined, I could sort of feel a wave of 'non-trust' arriving. I assumed it would not just be in a single manuf, but in the whole caboodle.

      quoting randomly: When SDN network policy is directly programmable because the control functions are decoupled from forwarding functions, which enables the network to be programmatically configured by proprietary or open source automation tools [or embedded malware!] There's also NFV or Virtual Network Function (VNF), which could easily have well-written endemic embedded malware as an obfuscated function. Prove it doesn't?

      I'm entirely ready to believe that Huawei isn't to be trusted, with new functionalities running on SDN NFV VNF, but unless all the infrastructure is open, and I mean ALL of it , not just Huawei's bit, then who can say that it isn't all compromised by the TLAs, everywhere - its what they do.

      ten month's old fluff here from disgraced former defence secretary now International Trade Secretary, Dr Liam Fox, who said: “Huawei’s £3 billion announcement is yet another significant vote of confidence in our world-leading tech industry and I’m delighted to welcome their increased commitment to the UK. With 90% of global growth forecast to come from outside the EU, my international economic department is working to ensure Britain continues to benefit from the vast opportunities available as we leave the EU.”

      probably the picture is even huuuuuuger than this . . .

      1. JetSetJim Silver badge

        Re: It's Just Retarded!

        Huawei are desperate to be a bigger player in western infrastructure and have been playing at it for quite a while. They successfully crippled Motorola's wireless infrastructure business - creeping in from the core outwards.

        Surprised they're still allowed as a RAN vendor, but not a core vendor. Wouldn't be surprised if it's possible to develop a compromised/backdoored RAN entity (whatever it might look like) for 5G - particularly as the authentication systems are now knowingly compromised, so a RAN based attack is possible.

        Saying that, from a purely capitalist perspective, being blocked from the core isn't likely to be that much of a blow to Huawei - all the money is in the RAN and the s/w upgrades needed for it. They're quite good at giving away RAN kit at cost (or lower), only to EOL s/w quickly, which then needs expensive upgrades (or at least that's my recollection from 10 years ago!)

    2. Pier Reviewer

      Re: It's Just Retarded!

      It makes sense from an arse covering perspective.

      Security-wise I think it doesn’t necessarily make that much difference. Huawei kit in the core and the radio access side could well carry risk (guy in field knows 0-day in radio side, gains access, then exploits 0-day in core from there).

      Kit in the core is pretty hard to reach without a presence on the network, or some piss poor network config on the operator’s part. Even then you’d need to have internal knowledge of the network, or be able to scan the IPv6 range from a tethered phone.

      Huawei kit on the radio side could be abused more easily - they could in theory pop an eNodeB which talks directly to the core. If they get hold of a Cisco/Ericcson core box, pull it apart and find a vuln your core is just as exposed.

      Ofc if that’s the case is it any safer having Cisco/Ericcson boxes? To the best of my knowledge nobody publishes vulns in that class of gear. It’s not exactly cheap or easy to get hold of current hardware and software for it.

      All theoretical? Ask Voda Greece...

    3. evlsamo

      Re: It's Just Retarded!

      It's likely that they are moving to a single vendor for core network elements in order to make maintenance and upgrades to the packet core more simple and that replacing Huawei kit with Nokia or Ericsson is being blown out of proportion.

      1. Pier Reviewer

        Re: It's Just Retarded!

        Uniformity of kit = uniformity of vulns :)

        It’s probably part of the reason tbh. Another being that the extra oversight of the Huawei kit makes it a bit more of a faff to get signed off. I’m assuming you’d want the kit tested by HCSEC before you plug it in/upgrade the software. That’s one more speed bump BT can do without.

        Plus, the change to the ESN possibly caused some puckering in the nether regions. Simpler just to bin the Huawei kit. Again it’s arse covering rather than a measured response, but if it’s easier and no less secure at worst then, hey. Why not?

        1. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: It's Just Retarded!

          >Another being that the extra oversight of the Huawei kit makes it a bit more of a faff to get signed off. I’m assuming you’d want the kit tested by HCSEC before you plug it in/upgrade the software.

          I would assume, given the nature of HCSEC, that you would want ALL kit that was to go into the core to be signed off by a UK organisation like HCSEC.

          But then I suspect some agencies would prefer the core to be built using equipment from compliant sources, as then their keys will fit the backdoors and the hooks will be there for their virtual crocodile clips.

      2. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: It's Just Retarded!

        >It's likely that they are moving to a single vendor for core network elements in order to make maintenance and upgrades to the packet core more simple

        Well given BT effectively didn't operate a mobile network until it purchased EE, it would seem the only reason to move away from EE's Huawei core network, would be if you were going to merge the fixed and mobile network cores.

        A concern has to be about the merger. I can see that fixed can be handled as a special case of mobile, but is mobile a special case of fixed?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: It's Just Retarded!

          "Well given BT effectively didn't operate a mobile network until it purchased EE"

          Not sure how to interpret this.

          BT very rarely operated anything effectively, apart from sleight of hand with the pension fund deficit:

          "BT will borrow £2bn by issuing bonds and pay it straight into the pension deficit. The bonds will be acquired by the pension scheme itself. An earlier plan to pledge network assets to trustees to reduce the need for more cash was abandoned" [1]

          But there was a time when they owned (and presumably ran?) BT Cellnet, which became O2, wasn't there?

          [1] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2018/05/10/bt-axe-13000-jobs-quit-london-hq-cost-cutting-drive/

  4. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Making Britain Great Again

    BT will only be using technology built at Dollis Hill

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Obviously their Kit

    had the wrong kind of Backdoors.

  6. CAPS LOCK Silver badge

    Replace it all with kit from...

    ... Cisco. That never arrives bugged.

  7. Kevin Pollock

    I guess what goes around comes around...aka Karma

    As somebody pointed out, Marconi was a historically badly run company that basically built products for BT and wondered why nobody else wanted them.

    But as a result they had designed their MSANs and the softswitch explicitly to support BT's migration to an NGN as part of 21CN.

    As we know, BT decided to go with Huawei MSANs and an Ericsson softswitch - which locked Marconi out of 21CN and they basically imploded and died. Marconi simply couldn't come down to the prices Huawei was offering BT. As a private company you can't really blame BT for taking the lowest bid, but in hindsight it really did come back to haunt them.

    The Ericsson softswitch just wasn't ready and so Ericsson had change horses and tried to deploy the Sonus softswitch instead - and that was already proven and working over Huawei MSANs in the TalkTalk network.

    Imagine Ericsson's surprise when it didn't work in the BT network. What nobody realised is that Huawei had delivered a "cost reduced" MSAN to BT that was missing some of the features that were present in the version they delivered to TalkTalk. Note that BT also had Fujitsu MSANs in the network, which I think worked fine with Sonus, but you kind of have to have your NGN everywhere to be practical, and there are 5,500 telephone exchanges in the UK.

    21CN was originally funded on the basis that BT would quickly gain savings by migrating the obsolescent System X switches (which were superbly reliable, but by about 2005 many of the spares were end of life).

    That was in about 2005 (maybe a little earlier), with the migration to an NGN supposed to be complete by 2008...and today, ten years later we still have System X running in the BT network. Telus (the remnants of Marconi in the UK) are raking in money today keeping System X going years past its retirement date. Good on them for milking BT's stupidity!

    Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Don't get me wrong - Marconi (sadly) was a doomed company sooner or later, but if BT had chosen the Marconi MSAN and softswitch solution BT would have had their NGN, and 21CN would have achieved its REAL business objectives (not the ones that BT execs has to retro-fit onto the facts later).

    A few years ago I attended a lecture by Stella Rimington, the former DG of MI5. In the Q&A I asked her if she felt that BT deploying Chinese equipment, operated by Chinese engineers might pose a security risk to the UK. After a long pause she smiled and said "yes". Then she gave a longer answer about the role of GCHQ in securing the national comms infrastructure.

    Just track the "jobs for the boys". Former Ofcom people ending up in Huawei, former BT CTOs ending up in Huawei with no work required, but a handsome salary. BT people moving to Ofcom or Huawei as a retirement strategy. You scratch my back...I'll scratch yours. Same thing happened with people in other companies (like Lucent, for example). So it's not just the Chinese vendors!

    A free market is a really, really good thing. Maybe we should have one?

    1. David Shaw

      Re: I guess what goes around comes around...aka Karma

      thanks for this interesting post Kevin.

      I was talking to one of the UK management of the Huawei R&D centres in the UK,

      they had a core of UK managers and an endless supply of great Chinese engineers,

      posted to work in Cambridge or wherever - for three months; replaced seamlessly by

      another bunch of great engineers until the end of their visas, replaced seamlessly by. . .

      When I worked at Marconi, the top management was only interested in horse racing,

      sad that it went downhill from there!

      My only interaction with System X was shutting down a whole input plane, in central London,

      by pointing an index finger, from ten feet away, at one of the Mercury switches. ESD delight, as everything went down and MNOC's PDP-11's had to route via Glasgow.

    2. HmmmYes Silver badge

      Re: I guess what goes around comes around...aka Karma

      Are you 100% on your dates?

      Marconi blew up in 2001.

      Huawei did not enter the UK until 2003ish - and then only minor.

      1. Kevin Pollock

        Re: I guess what goes around comes around...aka Karma

        Hi. Yes, I'm correct on the dates.

        Marconi's financial issues began, as you say, in July 2001 - although the origins of them go back much further.

        But the company soldiered on until about 2005, which is when Ericsson bought some of it and the rest ended up as Telent (not Telus as I said...sorry).

        The first round of 21CN suppliers were announced in 2003. Marconi wasn't among them, and that triggered the final death spiral.

        1. Kevin Pollock

          Re: I guess what goes around comes around...aka Karma

          Sorry - I was trying to expand on the post but it timed out...

          Hi. Yes, I think I'm pretty much correct on the dates.

          As you say Marconi "blew up" in 2001. But all that happened then was that everyone realised that Marconi's debts far outweighed the value of the company. The terms of those debts meant that, as long as the company could make the payments the creditors could not ask for their money back.

          So Marconi staggered on, rapidly down-sizing as it went along, and desperately hoping for 21CN business as the last hope.

          In 2005 BT announced the 21CN suppliers and Marconi was not on the list. Soon after the shock announcement Ericsson acquired Marconi's Networks division (which they never really did anything with), and Telent (not Telus...my error) kept the rest - which included the incredibly lucrative System X rights.

          Interestingly the day Marconi was formed in 1999 (from GEC and other bits and pieces) there were 55,000 employees worldwide.

          The scale of business failure and financial mismanagement are quite staggering.

    3. John Smith 8

      Re: I guess what goes around comes around...aka Karma

      I was part of the software end of the Fujitsu MSAN development at one point, and worked in Fujitsu on something else when it neared completion.

      It was 2005 when Marconi went bust due to failing to get 21CN. I remember my boss coming in and making the announcement, and the whoops involved. Then the ramp up of employees after that.

      Fujitsu and Huawei were supposed to be joint suppliers. In effect they didn't trust Huawei to deliver and had a proven supplier Fujitsu also do this. In the end then they did what they normally did with Fujitsu, screwed them over and bought the cheapest kit. Fujitsu lost over a £100 million on the project. I did ask at the time why BT was buying the supplier which was under the control of a foreign government which the UK was not completely friends with. No answer. BT bought the cheapest.

      That was about 2009. As far as I can tell they are still there. I'm not really sure what that BT was checking on its security, but as far as I know Huawei does feature heavily still in the UK telecoms network.

      The comms part of Fujitsu which did this doesn't exist anymore. Lesson? Don't try and supply BT.

  8. hairydog

    Remember System X?

    A vast amount of money was wasted on System X, devloped just so that any call could be tapped automatically and remotely.

    Noone else in the world thought this an acceptable idea so it didn't sell.

    So now BT are worried? Bunch of incompetent hypocrites.

    And as for their track record on mobile networks:

    They had Cellnet and screwed it up to the point where it was disposed of in a fire sale. Now they plan to wreck EE.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Remember System X?

      "[...] System X, devloped just so that any call could be tapped automatically and remotely. Noone else in the world thought this an acceptable idea so it didn't sell."

      ?

      The globally deployed "mass snooping" capability underlying much of this fuss is known in the trade as "lawful interception" (sometimes "legal interception", sometimes "wiretap" instead of interception, etc).

      It is not specific to System X, and has been a routine part of any telecom vendor's core voice network equipment and capabilities for ages.

      Today's digital technology allows lawful interception to work on a much broader scale than back in the olden days of System X

      Now, where were we?

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tom Jones disease

    Is the El Reg office having a competition between the staff to see who can shove the most contrived song titles into headlines or something?!

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    BT IS using Huawei gear in network

    BT IS using Huawei in its 21st century network which covers all network connections between exchanges including direct connections for things like internet and private circuits as well as telephone calls.

    Huawei – MSAN and core optical equipment in this WIKI

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BT_21CN

  11. EnviableOne Bronze badge

    Great news for ...

    Cisco Systems, Juniper Networks, Nokia (the old one that sold phones to micrososft) and Ericsson

    Huawei has grown its market share exponetnially over the last decade, mostly at the expense of cisco, but everyone's taken a hit.

  12. Keith Oborn

    Huawei within BT

    Until not that long ago - and possibly still - Huawei had dedicated office space at BT Adastral.

    Many of us were amused when HM Gov. required Huawei to pay for the establishment of the independent security audit centre. They duly did. The centre then looked around for staff, and ended up contracting with an outsourcer, who looked for people with Huawei expertise. Guess where they found them?

    When asked if they considered that having the independent security audit staffed by people from the company being audited was a problem, HMG representatives said "Of course not, why would it be?"

    As I recall, even the BT folk were gobsmacked.

    Side note: I don't think Huawei are squeaky clean, but they do at least try to engage with all this stuff, and keep a little distance from the PRC. ZTE are the ones to watch.

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