Huawei becoming bigger threat to established infrastructure vendors

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Major infrastructure vendors have been watching Huawei over their shoulders for a few years now, and soon they could be watching its backside as the Chinese vendor steals some big contracts historically reserved for the likes of Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, Nokia Siemens Networks and Motorola.

Huawei swooped in and took a massive six-year contract with Norway's Telenor in Ericsson and NSN's backyard earlier this month. The deal calls for Telenor's existing Ericsson and NSN network equipment to be merged into the new infrastructure provided by Huawei. The contract will see the delivery of equipment across technology generations and frequency bands, as well as base stations for 2G, UMTS and LTE.

Likewise, Belgacom has chosen Huawei to upgrade its mobile network. The deal calls for Huawei to integrate its GSM, HSPA and LTE systems in the future to a converged RAN, displacing NSN.

In Greece, Vodafone has gone live with a Huawei-based HSPA+ upgrade to its network, offering a peak download rate of 28.8 Mbps and upload rate of up to 5.8 Mbps. HSPA+ MIMO mobile broadband services initially will be provided in selected areas of capital Athens, and then expanded to other cities.

Huawei now supplies 36 of the world's top 50 mobile operators. Its customers in the U.S. include Leap Wireless, Clearwire and Cox Communications.

Interestingly, Huawei isn't severely undercutting the competition in its bids, according to an article in The New York Times this weekend. Rather, it is using products such as the SingleRAN platform and its unified packet core to collapse 2G, 3G and eventually LTE networks to provide a value proposition that involves lowering an operator's total cost of ownership. That's an enticing proposition in a world that will see operators managing three generations of networks.

Huawei's competitors have always pooh poohed the vendor as being one of those fly-by-night companies that severely undercuts the competition but offers little in the way of quality. Obviously, that perception is quickly changing among operators. Moreover, competing vendors' efforts to discredit the private company by questioning its business practices and ties with the Chinese military don't seem to resonate with operators. Telenor said it studied Huawei's private ownership, but in the end decided it wasn't a factor in the award.

The grab for LTE contracts has only just begun. When it comes to the battle for these contracts, incumbency has been thrown out the window. It's a new slate that allows every vendor to compete for business. NSN already is reeling from weaker sales and a declining market share. Could Huawei push it over the edge?

Motorola may have the right strategy when it comes to LTE. In the midst of fierce competition, the vendor is only going after contracts it believes it has a higher chance of winning.

"We are not trying to go head to head in every part of the globe. We've been selective in our engagements, focusing on the customers that we think we have a higher advantage with," Bruce Brda, senior vice president and general manager with Motorola's wireless networks business, said in a recent interview. "Our initial thrust is in places in Asia where we have a significant competitive advantage." That's why it won an LTE contract with Japan's KDDI, he said, despite the fact it competed against 10 vendors.

Motorola also is focusing heavily on TD-LTE, which could give it an edge in winning contracts in Huawei's backyard. China Mobile is particularly keen on deploying TD-LTE.

It may be time for some vendors, in particularly NSN, to begin taking similar approaches rather than attempting to conquer the world. --Lynnette