EE and Vodafone’s forthcoming 5G launches highlight a fundamental truth in the UK telecoms sector – Telcos can’t afford to launch 5G without Huawei

It’s been a busy few weeks for Britain’s mobile network operators, with the country’s two biggest MNOs announcing that 5G will be arriving on our shores in less than two weeks’ time.

Undoubtedly this marks an important milestone in Britain’s connectivity journey. With the arrival of 5G, the country is ushering in the dawn of the gigabit society, heralding a new age of ubiquitous, ultrafast connectivity. Indeed, Britain will be among the first country’s in the world to rollout commercial 5G services at scale, when EE switch on its 5G networks on the 30th May 2019, followed three days later by Vodafone.

At its 5G pre-launch event in London on Wednesday, EE gathered its industry partners along with journalists from across the country to expound upon the near infinite benefits that the 5G revolution will bring. EE’s partners from Samsung, Qualcomm and Google were all on hand to add their weight to the proceedings and to remind us all that 5G is going to make everything quicker, easier and just generally better – from the way we shop, bank and consume entertainment to the way we do business.

Despite the celebratory atmosphere at the event, there was one key partner who was conspicuous by their absence. I’m talking, of course, about Huawei.

Huawei has arguably done more to facilitate the rollout of 5G in the UK than any of EE’s other partners, yet representatives from the under-fire tech giant were not in attendance at the glittering event in London.  

As the introductory speeches gave way to questions from the assembled press pack, attention inevitably turned to EE’s relationship with Huawei, and its use of Huawei’s kit in its 5G network rollout.

“Obviously there is a lot of news around security at the moment – we have a multi-vendor system in place [for our 5G launch] and Huawei is a part of that mix,” Allera said. 

While it is understandable that Allera’s less-than-effusive response may have been intended to simply avoid turning his company’s 5G launch into a 5G security circus, the simple fact remains: EE’s 5G launch would not be happening on the 30th May 2019, were it not for Huawei’s involvement. Given that fact, it seems to me like they deserved more than a cursory nod of the head from the UK’s biggest MNO.

Indeed, none of the UK’s big four MNOs (with the possible exception of O2), would be able to get 5G off the ground in 2019, were it not for their ongoing partnerships with Huawei.

Allera said that EE would leverage the strength of its existing 4G networks to deliver a truly world class 5G service.

Huawei has been absolutely instrumental in building the 4G networks that will underpin EE, Vodafone and Three UK’s next generation 5G network infrastructure. All three operators use Huawei’s kit in the Radio Access portion of their 4G networks and will continue to do so for 5G, assuming that the UK government continues to ignore the mounting (and as yet unsubstantiated) pressure from Washington. EE even uses Huawei’s kit in its 4G core network, the brain that will power the early iterations of its 5G network.

Huawei has dramatically reduced the cost of 5G rollout for operators in the UK and across Europe, by pumping money into its R&D department and driving innovation. The inconvenient truth is that without Huawei, 5G would still be 12 to 18 months away in the UK – and Britain would certainly not find itself among the first nations in the world to be launching it. The cost would simply be prohibitive.

As Marc Allera stood discussing his company’s forthcoming launch in London, Huawei’s founder Ren Zhengfei was speaking to journalists in China about his company’s involvement in Europe’s 5G rollout.

“In terms of network capacity, 5G is 20 times larger than 4G and 10,000 times larger than 2G. The power consumption per bit of our 5G base station is ten times lower than 4G, and the size is 70% smaller. Our 5G base station is very small indeed, about the same size as a briefcase. It’s also light – about 20 kilograms. You don’t have to build a cell phone tower for 5G base stations, because they can be installed anywhere – on poles or walls. They can work for decades because they are made of anti-corrosion materials. This means that our 5G equipment can be installed even in underground sewage systems. It is especially suitable for European markets, where there are many areas with historical buildings and it’s impossible to build giant cell phone towers like those in China,” Zhengfei said.

“With our 5G base stations, our customers in Europe can reduce their engineering costs by 10,000 euros per site. They won’t need to use cranes for installation, and they won’t need to build cell phone towers. In the past, our customers had to use cranes to install huge pieces of base station equipment, and the surrounding roads had to be blocked off during the installation process. Now, they can easily install our 5G base stations by hand. It’s super easy,” he added.

As the US government continues to pile pressure on its allies to exclude Huawei from their 5G rollout plans, the UK government needs to stick to its guns and ask: where would its telecoms sector be without Huawei?