Vodafone UK warns banning Huawei would cost millions, slow 5G deployment

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Operator announces 5G in 12 more cities this year and warns of serious consequences if Huawei equipment is banned from British infrastructure.

Of the new 12 cities just announced, three sites are now live, in Bristol, Cardiff and Liverpool. The 12 are in addition to the seven cities that were part of Vodafone’s initial, UK-wide trial which began in 2018. These original cities are either live already or will be very shortly.

In addition to the 12 new cities, Vodafone’s investment in the Active Antenna (Massive MIMO) technology means many existing 4G sites are now 5G-ready. The technology provides multiple-data ‘channels’ from a single antenna, using 3.4GHz 5G spectrum: Vodafone secured the largest block of frequency at last year’s spectrum auction.

Drastic consequences

However, at the press briefing, Vodafone UK’s CTO Executive, Scott Petty, pointed out that 32% of its 18,000 4G base stations across the UK use Huawei equipment adding, “To replace those with somebody else's technology and then deploy – the cost of doing that runs into the hundreds of millions and [would] dramatically affect our 4G business case”

“We would have to slow down the deployment of 5G very significantly to go back and refresh our 4G network”.
 
Petty stated, “We think that's the wrong thing to do because [the RAN] is an area of the network that has very low risk and low impact; we should out to continue to work with Huawei in radio technology, make better decisions in the core network in the transport [network put] security back on the table”.

Vodafone has not deployed Huawei equipment in its transport or core networks.

Along with all UK operators, Vodafone is waiting for the outcome of government's Supply Chain Review which is investigating if the world’s biggest telecom equipment maker should be barred from networks in the UK, due to worries about the company using its equipment to spy for the Chinese state, among other things. Its findings could be published as soon as April

Petty and Vodafone's General Counsel, Helen Lamprell, were at pains to stress the company has seen no evidence that Huawei's equipment is a security threat.

Rollout continues apace

In the meantime, Vodafone’s 5G deployment is continuing apace. Engineers have installed 5G antennas and associated equipment in Birmingham, Glasgow and London ahead of going live. All Vodafone’s mobile sites are connected to RedStream, its nationwide optical fibre network, which supports connections up to 10 Gbps to enable services like video streaming without buffering even during peak times.

Alongside the seven cities already announced, we will be launching 5G in Birkenhead, Blackpool, Bournemouth, Guildford, Newbury, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Reading, Southampton, Stoke-on-Trent, Warrington and Wolverhampton.

Vodafone is also testing the performance of 5G smartphones, processors and routers in its Newbury HQ, based on the latest standards from 3GPP, Release 15, published last December.

Petty said: “Our multi-billion-pound network investment and leading position in setting global standards will ensure our customers have the very latest 5G releases and technology. 5G will also usher in a new era where everyone and everything is better connected, whether you are running a hotel in Portsmouth or broadcasting live at MediaCity in Salford.”