Reports suggest that SFR and Bouygues Telecom have begun removing the Chinese vendor’s network equipment from major cities around the country
France’s journey with Huawei in 2020 was a fickle one. At the start of the year, the Chinese vendor’s prospects looked reasonable, with France’s Minister of Finance, Bruno Le Maire, saying that the company would “not be excluded from 5G in France”.
But by July the tables appeared to have turned, at least in part due to US political pressure. While the government refused to order a total ban of Huawei, they instead warned operators that licences for Huawei equipment would not be renewed and would be limited to eight years – in effect, phasing out the vendor from national networks in the long term. Various legal challenges over the decision were brought by the likes of SFR and Bouygues Telecom, who use Huawei equipment for a significant portion of their LTE networks, but none gained significant traction.
Now, it seems that those same operators are already beginning to wind down their reliance on Huawei in major cities. According to anonymous sources speaking to Bloomberg, both SFR and Bouygues have begun removing Huawei’s 4G equipment from densely populated areas, including Toulouse, Toulon, Rennes and Brest. Sources suggest that this is because the equipment will be incompatible with that of other vendors they have selected for their upcoming 5G rollout.
The task of removing Huawei equipment is no mean feat for either of the two vendors. Bouygues, for example, noted last year that it equipment for around 3,000 towers would need replacing by 2028. Bouygues is set to replace the equipment with that of Ericsson, while SFR is switching to Nokia. Orange and Free have both selected a mix of Nokia and Ericsson for their upcoming 5G networks. Some of the equipment can reportedly be repurposed to areas in which the operators still held government waivers, but much of the equipment will simply be discarded.
Huawei is by no means done in France just yet. In February, the vendor announced that it was opening a 5G equipment manufacturing plant in the Alsace, their first outside of China. The news was well received by the government, though they stressed that the “investment decision is independent of the question of the deployment of 5G on French territory”.
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