Despite the French director general saying there would not be a “total ban” on Huawei earlier this month, reports now suggest that the country will pursue a de facto phase out nonetheless

The UK’s revised decision to ban operators from working with Huawei on 5G and ordering them to replace existing equipment by 2027 has greatly shaken the European telecoms ecosystem. In an instant, all eyes were turned to the likes of Germany, France, and the other European nations, each mulling the Chinese company’s future within their 5G networks.
Earlier this month, France appeared to stave off US calls to follow in the UK’s footsteps and issue an outright ban on Huawei, with the director general saying that the country would not opt for a “total ban”.
However, according to a Reuters report citing sources close to the matter, it seems that France’s cybersecurity agency ANSSI will force an ipso facto ban of Huawei in all but name. 
Telecoms equipment licences vary in length for cities around France, but are typically between three and eight years. Now, ANSSI is reportedly suggesting that it will not allow operators to renew licences for Huawei gear once they expire – in effect, gradually phasing Huawei out of the national 5G ecosystem by 2028.
While this could theoretically allow operators to continue to opt for Huawei equipment over the next eight years, in practise the slow return on 5G equipment investment will make doing so very unappealing for operators. Even worse, some of these 5G equipment licences are reportedly connected to 4G too, meaning the older network equipment could also be implicated in the phase out.
This announcement will be particularly problematic for Bouygues Telecom and SFR, who rely on Huawei for around half of their network infrastructure. Meanwhile, the other major French players, Orange and Iliad, will be less impacted due to primarily working with the major European vendors, Ericsson and Nokia, for their mobile networks.
Who exactly will step in to fill the void for Bouygues Telecom and SFR is sure to be the subject of much debate in the coming months, just as it is for various UK telcos. Ericsson and Nokia are, of course, the obvious choices, but Open RAN options are growing in prominence, as are Samsung and a number of Japanese companies as potential alternatives. 
Earlier this month, the UK’s culture secretary Oliver Dowden suggested to that the so called ‘D10’ nations – those in the G7, with the addition of South Korea, India, and Australia – come together to create a unified strategy regarding China when it comes to 5G. While still in its infancy, such a collaboration could be a viable solution to France’s vendor problem, though the diplomatic cost of such a slight against China would surely be steep.
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