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Mobile News XPO: Huawei ban would impact UK 5G customers say network chiefs

Manny Pham
March 25, 2019

BT CTO says Huawei tech is “18 months ahead” of competitors

UK customers will inevitably see price rises to mobile phone contracts if a ban on Huawei parts is enacted by the UK government.

The government was expected to decide on whether to ban operators from buying Huawei parts this month. A ban could mean stripping Huawei parts from 4G infrastructure, delaying the launch of 5G, as both need to work in tandem.

The warning came from BT group chief technology and information officer Howard Watson, speaking at the 5G Symposium during the Mobile News XPO at the London Hilton on Park Lane on March 14.

He said Huawei’s carrier technology is “18 months ahead” of that of its rivals Ericsson and Nokia, and Huawei has been a “trailblazer” in
recent years.

BT removed Huawei parts from key areas of its 4G network in December, citing the continuation of a policy that began when it purchased the mobile operator EE in 2015, to ensure that both parts of the combined network ran on the same technology.

Watson said a ban would do the UK a “disservice”.

“Huawei has some particular sweet spots, one of which is being very good at modulation techniques around radio access network and massive MIMO capability,” he said. “To block that out from us would do a disservice to the UK economy.”

He added: “The reality of reducing our ecosystem down to two vendors [Ericsson and Nokia] will inevitably mean that we will be paying more for equipment and that will eventually flow through to the customer and broader economy.”

The UK would risk losing its leadership status in 5G development and having its progress blown back by two years in the event of a ban on Huawei parts.

This was the view of all four chief technology officers from the UK’s major networks. Bans are already in place on Huawei in countries such as the US, Australia and New Zealand.

A ban would also leave a hole in competition in the carrier/infrastructure space, where Huawei’s biggest rivals Ericsson and Nokia are tipped to benefit.

Vodafone UK CTO Scott Petty said the impact of swapping would be “huge” and detrimental. “We run 4G networks using Huawei equipment in parts of our network, and you’re talking hundreds of millions [of pounds] to replace parts,” he said. “We can’t deploy 5G without 4G, and you can’t run one 5G vendor attached to another 4G vendor. That doesn’t technically work. So we will essentially slow down our deployments 18 months to two years.

“The UK would lose its European 5G leadership position. The UK is actually not that far behind global leaders such as China.”

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