BARCELONA -- MWC19 -- Garbed in their best 5G outfits, equipment vendors fighting for the attention of customers have shown off 12 network deals on the giant catwalk of Mobile World Congress.
On day four of the show, Ericsson and Huawei looked slightly more impressive than either Nokia or Samsung, boasting four deals each to roll out next-generation 5G networks. Nokia had three deals on display, while Samsung flashed one.
While that does not prove Ericsson and Huawei are ahead in the battle for customers, it shows how much importance all vendors attach to appearances as competition heats up.
Table 1: 5G Deals Announced at MWC
Huawei now claims to have signed more than 30 5G deals globally, although it has not been willing or able to share full details. Although a few were announced in the weeks and months leading up to MWC, the Chinese vendor and its customers must be nervous about revealing too much in the current environment: Denouncing Huawei as a rogue trader and threat to national security, US authorities are leading a campaign against the company and have urged governments in Europe and other parts of the world to exclude it from their 5G markets.
The risk that governments will ban Huawei, or that US lawmakers will block its access to US-made components, means service providers are eyeing it with some wariness, even if they love its technology. Several countries have already announced restrictions, and some operators have paused investment in Huawei products, begun removing its gear or indicated they will not buy its 5G technology.
But Huawei still has plenty of fans, and several were happy to link arms with it in public at this week's show. They included Viva in Bahrain, Rain in South Africa, Sunrise in Switzerland and Saudi Arabia's STC, which is using Ericsson and Nokia, too. Olaf Swantee, Sunrise's CEO, had previously talked up plans to build a 5G network for residential broadband services with Huawei's equipment.
As for Ericsson, it revealed information about four 5G contracts in Barcelona, bringing the total number of 5G customers whose names it has disclosed to 14. It seems likely that Ericsson has other 5G deals it has not been able to announce. But STC, US Cellular, Etisalat in the UAE and Ooredoo in Qatar have this week joined the list of names.
Nokia, meanwhile, has published details of a contract with Optus in Australia, where Huawei and smaller Chinese rival ZTE are banned from selling 5G products. Besides also featuring in STC's 5G plans, it has landed some 5G business with Huawei customer Rain. Nokia boasts more than 20 5G contracts. It is known to figure prominently in the plans of US service providers but has had less to say about other deals.
Samsung touted its efforts on a 5G project with Sprint in the US, where the South Korean vendor has established itself as a third player in the absence of Huawei and ZTE, neither of which has been able to sell products to major operators since 2012, when a US government report first identified them as a security threat.
Banned from acquiring US components for several weeks last year, and perhaps struggling to establish itself as a serious contender in the 5G market, ZTE had a relatively quiet show in comparison with its bigger rivals.
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— Iain Morris, International Editor, Light Reading