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O2: We've found Huawei of not using you-know-who's kit in 5G rollout

Sticking with Ericsson and Nokia

O2 has finally opened up on its Huawei-free 5G rollout plans: services will debut in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, London and Slough in October, with a further 20 cities to go live by the end of the year.

The mobile operator said today it is scheduled to to have services running in a total of 50 cities by summer 2020. Rival EE was the first operator to launch 5G in May, recently followed by Three and Vodafone.

However, Paolo Pescatore, analyst and founder of PP Foresight, said: "There is no disadvantage being the last to launch as coverage is so limited at this early stage. In fact there are opportunities to focus on areas where rivals have yet to offer 5G."

But unlike its competitors, O2 will be the only operator to launch 5G without using any gear from Huawei.

"We respect all three operators, they were thorough in their submissions," O2 chief executive Mark Evans told the BBC.

"But we were convinced that the best choices for us at this time are our current partners, which are Ericsson and Nokia."

Currently, O2 uses Ericsson kit in the core and radio access network of its 4G deployment as well as Nokia remote radio units.

The other mobile operators have called on the government to quickly make a resolution on whether the controversial Chinese kit maker could be used in Britain's 5G network. It fudged the decision in the release of its much-delayed UK Telcoms Supply Chain Review - originally due in March - published earlier this week.

In a statement, Evans said: "As we switch on our network across the country, our intelligence-led rollout prioritises the key areas in towns and cities first – the places where our customers need, and will use, 5G the most."

The operator detailed its 5G rollout in calendar '19 half-year results, posting a revenue rise of 5.1 per cent to £2.98bn and operating income before depreciation and amortization up 6.4 per cent to £919m.

Pescatore attributed O2's growth to the popularity of its more flexible customer plans.

The number of customers rose by 3.6 per cent to 33 million, including those on its mobile virtual network operators Giffgaff, Tesco Mobile, Sky Mobile and Lycamobile. ®

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