Telenor ditches Huawei, taps Ericsson for 5G RAN in Norway

Huawei was recently dealt partial wins and a blow, as the Chinese vendor was tapped by Telefónica to supply 5G radio access equipment in Germany and 5G core components in Spain, but ditched Friday by Norway’s Telenor in favor of rival Ericsson.

State-controlled mobile operator Telenor announced Friday that it selected Ericsson as RAN vendor for its planned 5G network in Norway, ditching Huawei, which was the RAN supplier for Telenor’s 4G network. Telenor will phase out Huawei over the course of the 4-to-5-year network modernization project, using the vendor to maintain the 4G infrastructure, and also upgrade to 5G coverage in selected areas of the country.

In choosing its RAN vendor for 5G, Telenor undertook “an extensive security evaluation” and considered factors like technical quality, ability to innovate and modernize the network, and commercial terms and conditions, according to a statement by Sigve Brekke, CEO of Telenor Group.

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“We expect 5G to be the one technology that will transform our society the most in the next decade. We have been through a thorough process to evaluate all the main vendors’ ability to deliver on Telenor’s requirements for the future mobile network,” said Brekke. “Based on the comprehensive and holistic evaluation, we have decided to introduce a new partner for this important technology shift in Norway.”

As previously announced, Telenor is upgrading its core network using Ericsson and Nokia.

Despite a U.S. campaign to keep Huawei out of 5G networks, Telefónica Deutschland recently stated its intent to award contracts to Huawei covering 50% of its 5G RAN network in Germany, with the other half going to competitor Nokia.

A company spokesperson acknowledged the contracts are conditioned on both vendors and their respective equipment complying with rules that have yet to be set by German regulators.

Telefónica Deutschland won’t select suppliers for its 5G core until next year.

Telefónica’s unit in Spain, meanwhile, last week decided it would use Huawei as one vendor for its 5G core, with a second provider to be chosen next year, a company spokesperson confirmed. Huawei had provided 3G and 4G cores for Telefónica in Spain.

Governments have been weighing whether to allow or ban Huawei equipment in their next-generation networks amid a global push from the U.S. for allies to exclude the vendor on security grounds and concerns the company could be used by the Chinese government for activities like espionage. Huawei has continually denied such allegations.

It’s posed an issue for European operators, some of which have used Huawei in the past and voiced concerns about increased costs and delayed rollouts if they were to drop the telecom equipment provider.  Deutsche Telekom recently decided to freeze all 5G equipment purchase deals for its network in Germany until regulators make a final decision on rules for next-gen mobile networks.

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“We hope that we will get political clarity for Germany’s 5G buildout as soon as possible, so that we do not fall behind,” DT told Reuters last week.  

In discussions about security, operators have been raising the distinction between selecting vendors for the core and RAN portions of networks. Security threats to the core are often seen as greater in nature and pose higher risks if compromised than the outer RAN layer, because the core is at the center of the network, in some ways the brain. It manages all of the data that passes through the network, processing and routing traffic and services for consumers, and other computing decisions. 

The RAN, meanwhile, is the outer layer, with radios and antennas that communicate with handsets and ensure end-user connectivity. In 4G networks, RAN components have little “decision making” ability, and therefore are limited in the amount of damage that could be done from insecure or corrupted equipment, according to a November report (PDF) by FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks detailing findings from a workshop he convened over the summer to address how to handle potentially insecure equipment in U.S. telecom networks.

However, the report also noted that distributed processing in 5G networks makes the RAN more vulnerable in the event of an attack.

In the U.S. the FCC recently voted to prohibit domestic service providers from using Universal Service Fund subsidies to purchase telecom equipment from Huawei and fellow Chinese vendor ZTE, on national security grounds. It’s also considering a “rip-and-replace” approach to remove all existing Huawei gear from current networks in the U.S.

Huawei in response, filed a federal lawsuit seeking to vacate the order, claiming the FCC does not have authority to designate the vendor as a national security threat.