Ericsson CEO Borje Ekholm has come to the defense of embattled Huawei, which, along with smaller Chinese rival ZTE, was recently banned from supplying any more 5G equipment to Sweden's mobile network operators. (See No Huawei for bidders in Sweden's 5G auctions.)
In an interview with the Financial Times (paywall applies), Ekholm said it was "important that those types of decisions are reviewed." He talked too of the importance of free trade, both to Ericsson and Sweden. "We're built on the opportunity to trade freely," added Ekholm. "From my perspective it is important that we have open markets and free competition." The CEO warned that restricting free competition and trade will lead to delays in rolling out 5G.
Ekholm referenced the European Commission's "5G Toolbox," which proposes an "objective assessment of identified risks and proportionate mitigating measures," as a useful guideline for national regulatory authorities to follow when it comes to handling suppliers. Sweden, indicated Ericsson's CEO, had made its own interpretation of the guidelines (and not one that he agreed with).
According to the ban order, Sweden's operators have until the start of 2025 to remove core network equipment from Huawei and ZTE.
At first glance, Ekholm might seem an unusual ally for Huawei. With the Chinese supplier pushed out of 5G in a growing number of western markets, both Ericsson and Nokia have been able to scoop up more commercial contracts than they no doubt once thought was possible by this time.
But Ericsson has won a sizeable amount of business in China, including a $593 million 5G contract with China Mobile, the world's biggest operator by customers, and major deals with China Telecom and China Unicom. Voicing some support for Huawei will do Ericsson's reputation in China no harm at all. (See Ericsson rides high on China 5G boom.)
"We have been riding on the investments in China and there are likely to be more than 500,000 basestations by the end of the year in China launched on 5G," said Fredrik Jejdling, the head of Ericsson's networks business, during a recent interview with Light Reading.
Ekholm nonetheless noted that while Ericsson competed "heavily" with Huawei, it also collaborated with them on industry standards. "It's important to maintain that," he said. "I belong in that category that believes competition makes us longer term a better company."
Swedish auctions up in the air
The Swedish communications regulator, PTS, last week applied the brakes to the country's 5G spectrum auctions applied the brakes to the country's 5G spectrum auctions after a Stockholm court effectively reversed its decision to ban Huawei from the process – at least for the time being. The Chinese supplier had appealed the regulator’s decision. (See Eurobites: Swedish court allows Huawei back in the 5G game.)
An auction of license concessions in the 3.5GHz and 2.3GHz frequency bands was scheduled for November 10.
— Ken Wieland, contributing editor, special to Light Reading