BT says it will continue working with Huawei at Adastral Park, despite global cyber security concerns over the controversial Chinese company

Pic from 2010 of a Chinese visit to BT. LtoR Jason Chen, Director Technology Solutions, Huawei BT Di

Pic from 2010 of a Chinese visit to BT. LtoR Jason Chen, Director Technology Solutions, Huawei BT Division; Graham Reid, Director Innovation Martlesham and Board member, Choose Suffolk; Phil Dance, Managing Director, Adastral Park; Victor Zhang, COO, Huawei UK & Ireland; Stephen Baker, CEO, Suffolk Coastal District Council; Joan Zhou, China Specialist, East of England Inward Investment; Carole Ren, General Manager, Huawei BT Division - Credit: Archant

Questions are being asked over the nature of Huawei’s operations in Ipswich. The telecoms company Huawei, which is currently embroiled in political controversy, is believed to employ around 100 people at its Martlesham base.

BT Adastral Park

BT Adastral Park

Last week, the head of the UK’s secret service, Alex Younger, signalled his security concerns over Huawei in a rare speech, stating that the UK had to make “some decisions” on Huawei after close intelligence partners such as the US, New Zealand and Australia banned them from future 5G mobile networks.

Hauwei is also in a political spat with America.

Today, Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou was released on a C$10m bail after being charged with misleading banks about Huawei’s connections with a company suspected of breaching US sanctions on exports to Iran.

Huawei has four research and development centres in the UK, one of which is at Adastral Park in Martlesham.

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Haiwei has been operating from there since buying the Centre for Integrated Photonics in 2012 from a public body, the East of England Development Agency, in order to focus on exploring ultra-high speed communications and optical research in Suffolk.

In February, Huawei announced it planned to spend a further £3bn on British technology and services over the next five years.

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That same month, Henk Koopmans, chief executive of Huawei Technologies Research and Development (UK) told the East Anglian Daily Times: “Our design centre in Ipswich is working on chips for fibre-optics and you would not believe how advanced it is. We have 100 people there. If you sell the vision and make it exciting enough, they will come.”

Haiwai has not yet responded to our questions about their presence at Adastral Park. But BT’s group head of technology communications, Mike Witts, explained that only does Haiwei rent office space from BT, which owns the Adastral Park site, but Huawei has also been a supplier for BT since 2006.

“Back then, they were a fairly small vendor, but they were very innovative,” he explained. “We decided to put in place sensible policies on where we use Hauwei.

“We limited them to the dumber parts of the network - the outer edges of the network, which involves lots of pieces of equipment converting radio signals to flashes of light, and cell towers. “They were not allowed access to the core, intelligent part of the network which routes traffic about and does intelligence and control. That’s where personal data travels about. When something goes wrong there, it’s a significant problem.”

In 2016, BT bought EE, which was then the UK’s biggest mobile operator. EE had been using Huawei in more intelligent parts of it’s network. So BT started a policy of aligning EE mobile infrastructure with BT’s existing policies, thereby taking Huawei out of the core 3G and 4G network.

Despite the global controversy over Huawei’s role in global telecommunications, Mr Witts will not rule out working with Huawei on “the dumber” parts of its 5G network.

“We are holding a bidding process for the equipment that goes into the core of the 5G networks - the intelligent part of the network - and we are excluding Huawei from that, but not from all of the 5G network.

“The radio access, the dumber parts, they are still working on and that’s what a lot of their development at Adastral Park is on.

“Huawei knew they would not be part of the core bid process for 5G and as a commercial organisation, I am sure they would like the opportunity to be. But that was not going to happen.”

Mr Witts explained that BT has a relationship with the National Cybersecurity centre, which is an off shoot of GCHQ. “We are part of the oversight board that they run that looks at every part of Huawei’s code used in the network and examines it for holes and concerns. There is an ongoing dialogue there.”

When asked whether BT’s stance might change in light of the events unfolding in North America regarding the fate of Meng Wanzhou, Mr Witts replied: “It’s not for us to comment on legal cases in other countries. We are still continuing to work with them, and expect to continue working with them in the future.”

Last week, Huawei said in a statement about its role in 5G projects and in some European driverless cars: “We categorically reject any allegation that we might pose a security threat...We are part of the solution, not part of the problem.

“Huawei has never been asked by any government to build any backdoors or interrupt any networks, and we would never tolerate such behaviour by any of our staff.

“Cyber security has always been our top priority and we have a proven track record of providing secure products and solutions for our customers in Europe and around the world. Today, the ICT supply chain is highly globalised.

“Cyber security needs to be addressed jointly at a global level, and equipment vendors should not be treated differently based on their country of origin.”

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