Telia Lithuania adds to Huawei's European pain

The pending change in the US administration does not appear to have halted the European trend towards excluding Huawei equipment from future 5G networks, as highlighted by developments in countries from Lithuania to the UK.

In a widely covered announcement yesterday, the UK government set out a roadmap for the elimination of Huawei kit from mobile networks, forbidding the installation of Huawei products starting in September next year.

News that Telia Lithuania is also planning to phase out equipment from Huawei starting next year seems to have slipped below the radar. The operator, which operates under the Omnitel brand in Lithuania, said in early November that it plans to upgrade around 2,000 sites over the next three years, and has picked Ericsson as its future partner for radio access network (RAN) technology.

In fact, it appears that the entire network of Telia Lithuania will need an overhaul. Strand Consult has previously estimated that the operator is currently 100% reliant on Huawei for its 4G RAN.

A spokesperson for Telia in Lithuania confirmed that a "large part" of the 4G RAN is from Huawei, but stressed that the operator has diversified the equipment used in all its networks, "which includes components from Ericsson, Nokia, Huawei, Cisco, Fortinet, Palo Alto and other manufacturers."

The operator has said that Ericsson will be its sole partner for RAN technology in Lithuania. Telia is aiming to start offering commercial 5G mobile services in Lithuania "as soon as possible," pending an upcoming spectrum auction to be announced by the Communications Regulatory Authority (RRT).

Geopolitical concerns dictate strategies

According to Reuters, Dan Stromberg, the head of Telia's operations in Denmark, Lithuania and Estonia, told the local BNS news agency this week that it decided to exclude Huawei because of the geopolitical situation.

A separate story from the Baltic Times reports on Huawei's regret that Telia has been influenced by geopolitics in making its decision about future suppliers.

The paper reported that Ricky Chen, the head of Huawei for the Baltic countries, told BNS that he hopes commercial activity in future "will not be restricted by geopolitical beliefs" and there will be a level playing field for all suppliers.

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As things stand, such hopes seem increasingly unlikely to become a reality. Other countries and service providers may be taking a more subtle approach, raising the bar to entry rather than imposing an explicit ban, yet the outcome will be the same: the withdrawal of Huawei from most of Europe. (See Europe is showing Huawei the exit.)

At the same time, some organizations are still arguing against the use of "geopolitical concerns" as a reason to ban suppliers such as Huawei and ZTE – including arch rival Ericsson.

The European Competitive Telecommunications Association (ECTA), a "pro-competitive trade association" that represents challenger telcos and digital solutions providers in Europe, also recently said it "denounced" any bans on Chinese suppliers if they were based on "geopolitical reasons." (See ECTA fights Huawei's corner.)

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— Anne Morris, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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