Nokia warns that Trump’s China tariffs could impede U.S. 5G rollouts

Image of Great Wall of China
President Trump's trade battle with China could affect 5G, according to Nokia. (Courtesy of Cox & Kings)

Nokia filed a warning with the FCC that President Trump's moves to levy tariffs on a wide variety of components from China could impede operators’ rollout of 5G network technology in the United States.

“Of particular concern to Nokia are the recent tariffs imposed on trade with China, which specifically target a wide range of components that are critical to 5G,” Nokia wrote in a recent filing to the FCC. “Unless exemptions are provided for these products, these latest duties threaten to raise the cost of 5G infrastructure in the U.S. by hundreds of millions of dollars. This is an important context that further emphasizes the need for the Commission to lower barriers to deployment where it can.”

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Two of Nokia’s top regulatory executives, Brian Hendricks and Jeffrey Marks, issued the warning in several meetings with FCC staffers, including Commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Jessica Rosenworcel. Nokia is the nation's second largest supplier of wireless radio access network equipment, behind Ericsson, according to Dell'Oro Group.

The Nokia executives also acknowledged that the FCC doesn't have much sway in international geopolitics. Nonetheless, the executives “stressed that the Commission should consider emerging headwinds, that are mostly external to Commission jurisdiction, that nevertheless threaten to impede 5G roll-out,” Nokia wrote in its FCC filing detailing the meetings. “These headwinds make the Commission’s policy choices in the areas in which it has authority (such as siting reform and spectrum) take on even greater significance.”

The FCC, for its part, has been working to free additional spectrum for 5G services as well as loosen local deployment regulations for wireless network infrastructure.

Trump of course has been raising the stakes in his trade battle with China for months, having recently levied 25% tariffs on a variety of goods from China.

The wireless industry isn’t the only one voicing concerns about the situation. As noted by The Verge, automaker Ford said it is abandoning plans to sell the Focus Active—which the company makes in China—in the United States because of the tariffs.

Tariffs on cars that are assembled in China have made a “very difficult business case for [Ford], so we’re choosing to deploy these resources elsewhere,” Kumar Galhotra, Ford’s president of North America, said this week.

That the tariffs could affect the rollout of 5G in the United States is notable though considering Trump has positioned the technology as imperative to the United States’ position on the technological world stage, particularly as the Chinese government gears up to push a massive 5G buildout in that country. Specifically, Trump has tied 5G and national security together in a proposal for a nationalized 5G network (one that didn’t become official) as well as through his move to block Broadcom’s acquisition of Qualcomm.

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