Vodafone, the world’s second-largest mobile operator, said it was “pausing” the deployment of Huawei equipment in its core networks until Western governments give the Chinese firm full security clearance.
The United States and some allies, including Australia and New Zealand, have banned Huawei from 5G networks because of alleged ties to the Chinese government, while the firm has denied that its technology could be used by Beijing for spying.
Vodafone‘s Chief Executive Nick Read said on Jan. 25 after reporting third-quarter results that the debate was playing out at a “too simplistic level”, adding that Huawei was an important player in an equipment market which it dominates along with Sweden’s Ericsson and Finland’s Nokia.
“We have decided to pause further Huawei in our core whilst we engage with the various agencies and governments and Huawei just to finalize the situation, of which I feel Huawei is really open and working hard,” Read said.
Poland is set to exclude Huawei from 5G after it arrested a Huawei executive earlier this month on spying allegations. Huawei fired the man, who has denied wrongdoing.
Europe’s mobile industry would face higher costs and delays to faster networks if authorities imposed a blanket ban on Huawei equipment, particularly the radio technology deployed on mobile towers, Read said.
Operators in Europe such as BT and Orange have already removed Huawei’s equipment or taken steps to limit its future use.
Read said Huawei’s equipment was used in Vodafone‘s core—which he described as the intelligent part of the network—in Spain and some other smaller markets.
European governments and security agencies had not pressurized Vodafone into taking the step, but the “noise level” had increased, and the debate now needed more facts, Read said, adding that governments in Africa and the Middle East, where Vodafone also uses Huawei, had not raised concerns.
A spokesman for Huawei, which become the world’s biggest telecoms equipment maker earlier this decade despite being shut out of the U.S. market, said it had been a long-term strategic partner to Vodafone since 2007.
“Huawei is focused on supporting Vodafone‘s 5G network rollouts, of which the core is a small proportion. We are grateful to Vodafone for its support of Huawei and we will endeavor to live up to the trust placed in us,” he said.
However, Read said that Vodafone had already agreed terms with a range of 5G suppliers, so moving away from Huawei in parts of the roll-out would not incur additional costs.
By Paul Sandle