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Comment: Huawei's victory has a silver lining for Ericsson and Nokia

JIM ARMITAGE
Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images

In the fog of war over Huawei, rivals such as Ericsson were left feeling like collateral damage. Not only was Huawei not banned, but amid the spin required to get the decision over the line politically, they have been made to look like the village idiots, unable to match the Chinese giant on price or quality.

Untrue! declares Ericsson. We’ve delivered the first commercial 5G network in Europe, in Switzerland, and we’re already in three of the UK networks.

Telcos counter that Huawei is more advanced in kit for antennas, the so-called periphery of the network, where it will still be allowed to operate. Ericsson disputes that, but giants like BT and Vodafone chose Huawei because its engineers said its tech was months ahead. They’d prefer to continue using it uncapped.

But caps there will be. Huawei will be banned outright in the core, and capped at 35% in the periphery.

So, the questions shareholders are asking: how will BT and Voda be hit? For Voda, expect little disruption. It has no Huawei in the core and only a third in the rest. BT has Huawei in both, but should have enough time to fix that before the deadline.

We’ll hear more with BT’s financial results tomorrow, but the main problem may lie in the fact that the 35% cap applies not just to the amount of kit but the volume of traffic. Nobody knows how much demand there will be for 5G in a year’s time, let alone a decade. Judging it now, as the networks are being built, requires a crystal ball that hasn’t been invented yet.

In cities like London, where most traffic will be, the risk of falling foul of the rules is high. Voda already only uses Ericsson here, BT Huawei.

It’s not great for competition, but others will follow Voda’s lead. A silver lining for Huawei’s western rivals.