In the yo-yo pattern that represents Huawei’s global relationships, the past year would have brought some comfort to the Chinese vendor, with a European operators’ association, as well as government authorities in Japan and South Korea, pushing back against the US-led move to bar Huawei from 5G networks everywhere.
In the past few months, European markets have, one by one, fallen into line with the USA, either with overt bans, as in the UK, or with restrictions that make it effectively impossible for operators to buy confidently from the Chinese firm, as in Germany.
But the European Competitive Telecommunications Association (ECTA), which represents smaller operators and digital service providers in the region, has “denounced” any sanctions against Chinese suppliers if they were based on “geopolitical reasons.”
The trade body said it thought the ‘5G Toolbox’ proposed by the European Commission should be enough to safeguard against the security breaches of which Huawei stands accused, as it provides an “objective assessment of identified risks and proportionate mitigating measures”.
According to ECTA (which counts Huawei as a member), a reduction in the number of global network suppliers from five to three would hurt its telco members “by increasing costs, negatively impacting performance, and delaying the deployment of 5G networks and constraining innovation potential”. It also warned of “wider socio-economic consequences, such as reducing the capacity of enterprises, public institutions, civil society and individual end users to offer new digital services and successfully drive growth and recovery.”
Meanwhile, South Korea is not bowing to pressure to issue bans on Chinese suppliers. According to the country’s Yonhap news agency, a call between Lee Tae-ho, a foreign minister, and Keith Krach, the US under-secretary of state, became tense when, as one official put it: “We made it clear that whether a private telecom company uses the equipment of a specific enterprise is up to that company to decide”. In fact, SK Telecom and KT do not use Huawei equipment for 5G, though they do buy landline kit from the vendor, but the third MNO, LG Uplus, is a Huawei customer.
In Japan, sources indicate that the country will not fully support the USA’s ‘Clean Network’ initiative to exclude Chinese equipment from 5G and other critical networks. Japan was reported, when the USA first called for allies to support its anti-Huawei stance, to be planning to issue a ban, but that has never materialized. Now, the Yomiuri newspaper reports that Japanese officials have notified the USA that Japan will not support a strategy which bars vendors on the basis of their country of origin.
In China itself, the three operators have rolled out 600,000 5G base stations and signed up over 110m 5G subscribers, according to the government. This highlights the size of the market from which western vendors could be excluded in retaliation for the bars on Huawei, if the geopolitical stand-off is not relaxed soon.
Undaunted, the USA is seeking to develop its own 5G ecosystem as a counterweight to Huawei and China, and some of the work is taking place under the auspices of the ‘Next G Alliance’, formed by trade body ATIS (Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions). The three big operators, as well as US Cellular, have joined up, along with Facebook, Microsoft and Qualcomm. Canadian operators Bell Canada and Telus are also founders, as are vendors such as Ericsson, Nokia, Samsung, Ciena, InterDigital, JMA Wireless and Telnyx.
The goal is no less than to position North America for leadership in ‘6G’, from R&D to manufacturing, standardization and market readiness, said the group.
The Next G Alliance says founding membership is open to companies that “provide products, services, software or applications for the use in US commercial, private or government networks or operate communications networks, multimedia or cloud services in the North American market.”
ATIS CEO Susan Miller said: “As countries around the globe progress ambitious 6G research and development initiatives, it is critical that North American industry steps forward to develop a collaborative roadmap to advance its position as a global leader over the next decade.”
The group’s first three strategies are to:
- Create a 6G national roadmap to address a changing competitive landscape, positioning North America as the global leader
- Align the North American technology industry on a core set of priorities that will lead to 6G leadership and influence government policy and funding
- Identify and define early steps to drive rapid commercialization and adoption.