Optimising the Huawei swap-out programme

Following the June 2020 decision by the Federal Communications Commission in the United States to classify Huawei as a national security threat, multiple governments around the world have reconsidered their business engagements with the Chinese technology company.

By Associate Director, Asef Ahmed, and Senior Project Controls Engineer, Busola Ilesanmi

In response to the US sanctions, the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre coordinated a technical review and advised the country’s government to remove Huawei equipment from its most sensitive core network by 2027.

The UK telecommunications sector is now compelled by law to find alternatives to Huawei components and applications. This will necessitate a significant swap-out programme and providers will be seeking to adopt a high-performing approach to complete this at minimum cost and within the government’s timeline. To further complicate matters, they will need to minimise any impact on their customers.

We outline the key issues, risks and solutions that affected organisations should consider to ensure they are optimising the performance of their Huawei swap-out programmes.

Risk identification is key

Telecommunication infrastructure enables everyone from families, businesses and governments to seamlessly connect and share information. During 2020 the UK’s record for broadband use was broken 15 times, with usage rising to 50,000 Petabytes (PB) of data being consumed across the country, compared to around 22,000 in 2019.

Early identification and quantification of risks is critical to enabling correct whole-life decision making as well as avoiding programme delays/overspend. This is particularly important as the swap-out programme coincides with the peak of 5G roll out across the UK.

Delivering a successful swap-out programme

Telecommunications providers must take action now to plan and mitigate these six key risks during the delivery phase.

Risk Mitigation
Whole-life decision making Mature asset management
Supply chain Collaborative engagement
Service disruption End-to-end repeatable processes
Operations One team working
Performance Visibility of programme data
Environmental change and business Future proofing

1. Mature asset management

Combining best practice asset management with a robust, proven delivery model is a win-win approach to avoiding suboptimal decision-making. Having a full understanding of the existing asset base including locations, health and performance – in a digitally enabled asset data repository – underpinned by structured decision-making processes means informed decisions can be made about the long-term development of the network.

This enables synergies between the swap-out programme, new infrastructure roll-out and operational needs to be identified and investment in assets that are shortly to become redundant.

2. Collaborative engagement

Telecoms, along with many other sectors, is seeing significant challenges with supply chain capacity, capability, and stability – in short, a supply chain crunch. This can be mitigated by development of long-term, collaborative relationships with both component and installation partners with incentivisation linked to cost, quality, pace of delivery and overall programme outcomes, based on successful approaches in a variety of other sectors such as rail and water.

3. End-to-end repeatable processes

Consistent processes which are seamless and fully integrated across the full project lifecycle and which can be assured in a risk-based manner are key to achieving right first-time outcomes needed to avoid service disruption.

Applying lean techniques to capture, monitor and evaluate every step will enable key risks and bottlenecks to be identified and addressed – leading to faster, cheaper and more reliable delivery thereby creating a competitive edge.

4. One team working

Most mobile operators run lean field force teams with little inbuilt capacity for supporting capital projects. Effective coordination and communication and the formation of a one-team approach between operations and the delivery teams with a consistent flow of information in both directions will be critical to success.

This will allow the swap-out work to be scheduled in a way that enables the input of operations without impacting on business-as-usual activity.

5. Visibility of programme data

Key to providing insights to understand progress, risks and where improvement is required is a proactive digitally-enabled integrated controls and performance management approach (often termed a PMO). This should enable foresight and effective decision-making through standard, reliable, unbiased performance reporting data with built-in ‘predict and prevent’ capability.

6. Future proofing

Although the future remains hard to predict and the swap-out programme is about the here and now, it is important to consider medium and longer-term changes in customer behaviours and wants.

This includes understanding changes in societal priorities and desires, and the risks associated with further legislative and market shifts. Ensuring the approach is resilient, sustainable and aligns with an organisation’s roadmap for achieving net zero, should be a key consideration in the delivery approach.

A business opportunity

The Huawei swap-out programme is one of the biggest upheavals in the telecommunications industry in recent times. Yet, it presents a significant opportunity for operators who are prepared to take a programmatic approach and proactively address the key risks identified.

For those that get this right, they can achieve a competitive advantage by demonstrating effective delivery at pace that minimises service disruption. For business customers looking for low-risk operational solutions to their service needs, this will hold significant appeal as we head into our increasingly digital future.

For further information contact:

Asef Ahmed
Associate Director