Three UK is divesting Samsung’s 4G wireless devices and introducing devices from Huawei to ensure interoperability between its 4G and 5G networks.
The carrier operates the smallest of the four mobile networks in the UK. Before moving to Samsung in the 4G era, it worked with Nokia to establish the original 3G Radio Access Network (RAN). In August last year, Huawei announced that it would become the sole supplier of its 5G RAN technology.
This causes doubts about Three’s commitment to Samsung. Experts say that a carrier that builds a “non-independent” 5G network must purchase 4G and 5G equipment from the same vendor to avoid interoperability issues.
But Three has confirmed to Light Reading that its contract with Huawei includes replacing Samsung’s 4G network and installing new 5G devices. Mike Eales, director of network services strategy and architecture at Three, said: “With Huawei’s project, we are replacing Samsung’s 4G and deploying 5G.”
Given the security concerns surrounding the company, serious reliance on Huawei may be risky. American hardliners see it as a channel for Chinese spies and pressure European governments to ban their use of the technology in their 5G market.
The UK government is currently conducting a supply chain review that will determine whether Huawei should be excluded from part or all of the country’s 5G network.
Three’s operations are based on the assumption that any ban will be limited to the core part of the network, the central part of the network that routes traffic and includes important IT systems. Its main core network provider is Nokia in Finland.
Shaun Smith, the head of the Three 5G project, said that the National Cyber Security Center (NCSC) responsible for security matters is fully involved in the Three procurement process, and any decision that affects the RAN will be “unusual”.
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He said: “This will damage all operators in the UK in a very similar way.” He pointed out that other service providers in the UK are also heavily dependent on Huawei’s mobile devices. “It’s worth remembering that in our topology, our new core is (from) Nokia, which is where all the intelligence is. The radio kit is running, which is done under the supervision of the NCSC.”
Considering the hassle and cost of replacing one supplier with another, it is not easy to switch from Samsung to Huawei. Vodafone UK previously said that it will replace Huawei’s 4G equipment (about 6,000 of its 18,000 mobile stations using 4G equipment) in opposition to a total ban on 5G networks.
All of this shows that Huawei’s bid for the RAN contract is very competitive, and Three executives are not satisfied with Samsung’s 5G capabilities.