Orange has an elegant solution to Huawei question in France: We'll stick with Nokia and Ericsson for 5G networks

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Orange, France's largest telecoms company, will use Nokia and Ericsson to deploy its 5G networks as pressure to ban Huawei from European networks mounts.

The decision will please US authorities, who have pushed European allies to ban Huawei from their 5G infrastructure. Washington argues using the Chinese firm's kit might enable Beijing to conduct surveillance and intelligence gathering.

Huawei has repeatedly denied allegations that it will spy on customers and users overseas for the Chinese government.

The decision was simplified for Orange because it already uses Nokia and Ericsson for its current mobile networks, on which part of the next mobile tech will be built.

"For Orange France, it was the easiest solution," a source close to the operator told Reuters, adding that it followed negotiations and experiments using Nokia, Ericsson and Huawei products.

But for others, changing from Chinese-made kit is a costly decision. Telecoms association GSMA has said that replacing Huawei and fellow Chinese firm ZTE's gear, which is used in 40 per cent of European telco equipment, would add €55bn to the cost of building 5G networks in Europe and delay the technology by 18 months.

BT recently warned that UK prime minister Boris Johnson's 35 per cent cap on Huawei equipment in the UK would cost the company £500m over the next five years.

Arthur Dreyfuss, head of the FFT, France's telecoms lobby, said French operators will request compensation if they are banned from using Huawei gear, in an interview with Les Echos (in French) last week.

The decision provides some clarity after months of unease while France decided whether to allow Huawei on its networks. In November, France's telecoms regulator, Arcep, halted tenders for 5G frequencies until March this year after the FTT called for further clarification on Huawei's risk.

The EU's industry chief, Theirry Breton, echoed the FFT's hesitancy in a recent interview with Le Monde (also in French). "Telecoms operators mustn't select risky suppliers, which could allow a state, for example, to take control of strategic sites such as capital cities, areas of intense military activity or nuclear power plants," he said.

Last week, the EU agreed to let members individually decide whether they would use Huawei gear in their 5G infrastructure, resisting pressure from the US for an outright ban. ®

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