U.K. bans Huawei for 5G; will Germany be next?

The U.S. government's heavy-handed diplomatic tactics probably don't resonate well with Germans. (Getty Images)

Another domino has fallen for Huawei. The British government today made a final determination to completely ban Huawei equipment from the country’s 5G wireless networks. The ban on new 5G equipment takes effect in January. And operators have until 2027 to rip out existing Huawei 5G gear.

The determination comes after the UK government attempted various compromises to ban Huawei equipment from the most sensitive parts of core networks, while permitting it in less sensitive parts of the radio access network. The government under Boris Johnson was caught between opposing forces: maintaining good relations with the U.S., maintaining good relations with China, and not wanting to fall behind on 5G by requiring its wireless operators to rip and replace Huawei equipment.

RELATED: BT, Vodafone UK complain about ripping out Huawei

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Today’s determination comes down as a win for the Trump administration. And the country’s wireless providers, including BT, Vodafone UK and O2, will have to replace existing Huawei equipment and use alternative vendors for their 5G rollouts. BT and Vodafone have said the measures will cost them hundreds of millions of dollars to perhaps a few billion dollars.

In related news, the chairman of the U.K. board of directors of Huawei, John Browne, announced today that he will step down in September. 

In terms of its relationship with China, today’s U.K. decision may cause a rift. But China is already causing rifts, itself, with its aggressive moves against democracy in Hong Kong, recently.

With Britain capitulating to U.S. demands to shun Huawei, all “Five Eyes” countries have banned or are considering banning the Chinese vendor. Five Eyes refers to a communications surveillance alliance between Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which was formed after World War II.

RELATED: Bell Canada doesn’t rule out Huawei for 5G

The Canadian government has not mandated that its wireless providers avoid Huawei. But the country’s three major providers – Bell Canada, Telus and Rogers – have independently chosen to not use equipment from Huawei in their 5G deployments.

Besides the Five Eyes countries, many other countries around the globe have formally eschewed using Huawei or ZTE equipment in their telecommunications networks.

All eyes turn to Germany

Notably, Germany is one country whose government has not banned the use of Huawei equipment. Deutsche Telekom is 31.9% owned by the German government, and the telecom operator is reportedly heavily dependent on Huawei.

DT issued a statement on July 7 saying it’s committed to a multi-vendor strategy and that it buys from a large number of different manufacturers, including Cisco, Juniper, Nokia, Ericsson and Huawei.

Across Germany and all its European subsidiaries, DT says it sources 30% of its technology purchases from American manufacturers. It lumps European and Chinese manufacturers together, which makes it unclear how much gear it actually sources from China, saying it buys 25% from European and Chinese manufacturers. And finally, it sources 45% from other Asian or small local providers.

But DT argues that the choice of manufacturers in the antenna access network is limited, and the company needs components that work with its existing SRAN technology. “This is why Deutsche Telekom is relying on existing suppliers Ericsson and Huawei for 5G expansion in the antenna network,” it said. “We also want more choice in the antenna network. To ensure more component diversity in the network in the medium term and to be able to choose between more manufacturers, Deutsche Telekom therefore supports the so-called Open RAN initiative.”

DT also said that it is “moving out Chinese vendors in the mobile communications core network,” and that its purchases of Huawei equipment have been declining over the last three years.

Aside from justifying its use of Huawei equipment in its networks, DT is based in Germany, a country with a different political climate than the U.K. Neither President Trump nor Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are popular in Germany. The German government and people may resist the U.S.’s heavy-handed tactics and not comply as a matter of principle.

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