Angling for a major 5G contract with the UK's BT, Ericsson has shot down the suggestion that ridding the country of Huawei's presence would take more than five years.
The UK government this week set a deadline of end-2027 for the removal of Huawei's 5G equipment after fierce lobbying by BT and Vodafone, both of which have insisted that replacing Huawei in less than five years would lead to service disruption for customers.
But Fredrik Jejdling, the head of Ericsson's networks business, has said his company would be able to carry out a much speedier overhaul without risking any problems for UK operators.
"I can't get into any definite timelines, but we have been engaged in a number of swaps historically and it will not take five to seven years," he told Light Reading. "We can do it a lot faster. We are ready and we have the supply chain and the local service capability to do it."
Jejdling also insisted Ericsson can match Huawei on technical performance after a Financial Times report said the Chinese vendor's products were better for the non-contiguous spectrum that might be licensed in a forthcoming 5G auction.
"We have the technology to meet extended bandwidths that are required and that is to do not only with non-contiguous spectrum but also with spectrum-sharing combinations," he said.
Ericsson's recent takeover of Kathrein, a German antenna specialist, has been aiding the development of more lightweight active antenna units (AAUs), said Jejdling, after Huawei boasted an AAU weighing just 25 kilograms in February this year.
In April, Earl Lum, an analyst with EJL Wireless Research, told Light Reading that Ericsson's AAUs were "still in the 40-kilogram range."
Operators are demanding smaller, more lightweight and less power-hungry 5G equipment as they try to minimize site deployment and maintenance costs.
"When we introduce our new portfolio, we will be able to compete on those weight scenarios you talk about," said Jejdling. "We are targeting designs for performance and power efficiency, and we are introducing a lower-weight portfolio as we speak."
The update comes shortly after Ericsson announced two new antenna integrated-radio (AIR) products designed to overcome the problem of space restrictions at some basestation sites.
"The interleaved AIR that we announced a couple of weeks ago is a Kathrein and Ericsson project that looks at combining a 32TR active antenna with a 16-port passive antenna so that you can condense and consolidate the site and the overall weight," said Jejdling. "It is a very elegant and simple solution that allows you to reduce footprint at the site, which is a big cost."
The TR reference he cites is to the number of transmitters and receivers used in the antenna product.
Ericsson is at the front of the queue to replace Huawei in the network of BT, which has already carried out trials of the Swedish vendor's 5G equipment.
BT currently uses Huawei for equipment at about two-thirds of its 19,000 mobile sites, with Finland's Nokia supplying the remainder.
Howard Watson, the operator's chief technology officer, told UK politicians last week that his only viable alternatives to Huawei today are Ericsson and Nokia, playing down the opportunity for South Korea's Samsung, a challenger in the market, or the developers of "open RAN," a new system promising more software-based networks and greater interoperability between different vendors.
Ericsson is a less obvious choice for Vodafone, which already uses the Swedish vendor for kit at roughly two-thirds of its 18,000 mobile sites, relying on Huawei elsewhere.
The Swedish firm may also see an opportunity with Three UK, the smallest of the UK's four mobile network operators, which had previously intended to build its entire 5G radio access network with Huawei.
O2 is the only service provider largely unaffected by the government decision: Nearly all O2's current RAN equipment is provided by Ericsson and Nokia.
Jejdling's remarks come after Arun Bansal, the head of Ericsson's European business, told BBC radio earlier this week that Ericsson currently handles more than 100,000 site swaps every year.
"We need to work with government and with operators to put in a timeline," he said. "We can do our part. We have technology leadership, we have the supply chains, we have more than 2,500 engineers employed locally."
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- Writing on UK wall for Huawei
- UK bill for Huawei takeaway does not add up
- BT, Vodafone warn of blackouts if not given five years to be Huawei-free
- Huawei ban in UK is surely just a matter of time
— Iain Morris, International Editor, Light Reading