Bell Canada doesn’t rule out Huawei for 5G

Bell Canada and Telus this week tapped Ericsson and Nokia for their respective 5G builds, meaning all three of Canada’s major operators have bypassed Huawei amid government indecision on the Chinese vendor’s role in telecom networks.

Bell Canada (or BCE), which already named Nokia as a 5G vendor in February, said Tuesday that Ericsson will supply 5G radio access network (RAN) equipment for both mobile and fixed wireless services.

In response to questions from Fierce, a Bell spokesperson said the operator is working with multiple vendors on its 5G build as it did for 4G LTE and wouldn’t rule Huawei out if the government decides to let the vendor play a continued role. Huawei supplied equipment for Bell’s 4G network, alongside Ericsson, Nokia, Cisco, and others.

“Huawei has been a reliable and innovative partner in the past and we would consider working with them in 5G if the federal government allows their participation,” the Bell Canada spokesperson said in an email to FierceWireless.

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Telus yesterday chose both Ericsson and Nokia for its 5G buildout, but didn’t provide additional details or respond to questions from Fierce.

The moves follow Rogers Communications, which started rolling out Canada’s first 5G network earlier this year with vendor partner Ericsson.

Although Huawei supplied 4G LTE networks, the Canadian government is still deciding on the company’s role in 5G networks. Amid the backdrop of broader U.S.-China trade tensions, the U.S. administration has campaigned globally for allies to exclude Huawei, citing national security concerns, including that the vendor could be forced to comply with Chinese government-backed spying or disruption to communications networks. Huawei has continuously denied such claims.  

After initially allowing Huawei a limited role as a 5G vendor, the U.K. recently began evaluating the impact of U.S. sanctions against Huawei on Britain’s telecom networks.

On Wednesday U.S. Senator Tom Cotton told BBC that a decision to allow Huawei in Britain’s 5G networks could negatively impact military or intelligence sharing and come up in U.S.-U.K trade talks, according to Reuters.

Meanwhile, Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wenzhou is currently detained in Canada after being arrested in Vancouver and later indicted in early 2019 on fraud charges. A Canadian court last week handed a win to prosecutors fighting for Wanzhou ‘s extradition to the U.S. to stand trial.

Canada’s 5G timeline still unclear

Aside from Rogers’ limited 5G deployment, service from Telus and Bell Canada is expected this year although exact launch dates remain unknown and have been further complicated by the coronavirus pandemic.

In the announcement naming Ericsson, Bell Canada said it is poised to launch initial commercial 5G services as Canada’s economy reopens in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. It will expand coverage further following the country’s auction for 3.5 GHz spectrum, slated for later this year.  

Speaking on Bell Canada’s first-quarter earnings call in early May, BCE CEO Mirko Bibic said its initial 5G network is ready but “frankly we don’t think it’s the right time right now to officially launch it for marketing purposes.”

RELATED: Rogers begins 5G rollout in Canada

“I just don’t think that customers are paying attention to this right now and that’s not what is top of mind for our customer base. They have other priorities, understandably,” Bibic said, adding that BCE is ready to go, according to a SeekingAlpha transcript.

Telus also didn’t give a launch date but indicated 5G has become more vital since the public health crisis.

“Our 5G deployment will support economic growth and diversity that will be essential for the virtualization of health, education, teleworking, and stimulating the economic growth and recovery given the impact of COVID-19,” said Telus President and CEO Darren Entwistle said in a statement.

Even before the pandemic hit, executives were not inclined to give a date other than sometime in 2020. Speaking on the company’s fourth quarter earnings call, Entwistle said he wouldn’t be pre-announcing launch plans “for competitive reasons,” according to a transcript. Entwistle at the time cited spectrum availability – pointing to the 3.5 GHz auction – as a key component to the operator’s 5G launch roadmap.  

The Vancouver-based operator plans to introduce 5G for consumer applications like mobile gaming and virtual reality, but also pointed to support for advancing broader Canadian industry such as IoT and advanced agriculture technology.

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Although slower to move on 5G than some other countries, Canadian operators have emphasized the strength of the country’s already fast 4G LTE networks. An Opensignal report released last month showed that Canada rose to the top of the ranks globally in terms of download speeds, tying for first with South Korea. Both Canadian and South Korean users clocked average download speeds of 59 Mbps.

In terms of 5G devices, Bell Canada already started carrying 5G-supported smartphones including the Samsung’s S20 series, as well as the LV V60 ThinQ 5G Dual Screen and the Motorla Edge+.

For Ericsson, the Bell Canada and Telus contracts represent another 5G win for the Swedish vendor. On Tuesday Telefonica Deutschland’s mobile O2 brand in Germany chose Ericsson for its 5G core. The deal marks Ericsson’s 92nd commercial 5G contract and includes implementing an independent 5G core network with full cloud compatibility by 2021.