Britain hedges on Huawei, US senators suggest O-RAN as option

The Trump administration wants the U.K. to officially ban Huawei equipment from its networks, but British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, like his predecessor Theresa May, is hedging. Johnson said those opposed to the use of equipment made by China’s Huawei need to say what alternative technology should be used instead, according to Reuters.

Johnson is caught in a difficult position because he doesn’t want to jeopardize his relations with the U.S. in terms of security and intelligence sharing. But the network operators in the U.K. are continuing to use Huawei equipment, and he doesn’t want to collapse their efforts, either.

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As if anticipating Johnson’s concerns, yesterday, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced legislation that would provide over $1 billion to invest in Western-based alternatives to Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE.

In their announcement, the senators said, “U.S. efforts to convince foreign partners to ban Huawei from their networks have stalled amid concerns about a lack of viable, affordable alternatives.”

The legislation, entitled the Utilizing Strategic Allied (USA) Telecommunications Act, would encourage competition with Huawei that capitalizes on U.S. software advantages. Among other things, the legislation would require the Federal Communications Commission to direct at least $750 million, or up to 5% of annual auction proceeds from new auctioned spectrum licenses, to create an O-RAN research and development fund to spur open-architecture, software-based wireless technologies.

Needless to say, this kind of government support could certainly propel the vendors in the U.S. that are already working on open, virtualized wireless technologies such as Altiostar, Mavenir and Parallel Wireless.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, speaking at the Consumer Electronics Show last week, indicated that he was also interested in next-gen wireless technologies that rely more on software than the kind of traditional equipment sold by foreign companies such as Huawei.

Pai said that he has “met with Rakuten” and discussed wireless security issues with company executives. Rakuten Mobile is building a 4G/5G greenfield network in Japan based on open software and virtualization technologies. Pai said he’s also met with executives from Altiostar.