The Oklahoma operator bought $32 million worth of Huawei's 4G equipment because it was far cheaper than similar gear from Nokia and Ericsson. Now, it's buying Ericsson's 5G-ready equipment.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies

September 28, 2022

3 Min Read
Pine Cellular to rip out Huawei gear and replace with Ericsson

Pine Cellular announced it will replace Huawei's 4G equipment across its 140 cell sites in southeastern Oklahoma with equipment from Ericsson capable of handling 5G traffic.

"We needed a partner that could provide the latest technology so we could continue to grow our business, and we felt Ericsson had the best products and solutions to make this upgrade successful," said Jerry Whisenhunt, general manager of Pine Cellular, in a press release.

Ericsson confirmed to Light Reading that its equipment will replace Huawei's but declined to comment on the terms of its new contract with Pine Cellular, including the overall value.

Ericsson has won similar contracts from other small US wireless network operators like Viaero Wireless. The win with Pine represents a setback to other companies like Nokia and Mavenir, which are chasing similar deals.

Figure 1: (Source: Ericsson) (Source: Ericsson)

Pine Cellular is owned by Pine Telephone Company, which is headquartered in Broken Bow, Oklahoma, and started offering telephone service in 1911. It is one of dozens of small US wireless network operators that purchased equipment from China's Huawei.

According to a lengthy 2019 article from the Washington Post, Pine Cellular began looking for a 4G wireless network equipment vendor in 2010. It settled on Huawei because the vendor's gear was far cheaper than similar equipment from Nokia and Ericsson. The operator spent a total of $32 million on Huawei's 4G equipment, with roughly half that amount coming from the Rural Utilities Service, or RUS, an arm of the US Department of Agriculture that helps finance infrastructure projects.

However, Pine Cellular and other US carriers that purchased Huawei equipment have since become embroiled in a geopolitical battle between the US and China over accusations of espionage. US lawmakers argue that Huawei's equipment can be used to spy on US military installations, including nuclear sites. But Huawei and other Chinese vendors like ZTE dispute those allegations.

Nonetheless, Congress has allocated $1.9 billion to the FCC's "rip and replace" program, which is designed to remove Chinese-made telecom equipment from US networks. However, that only covers about 40% of the total cost, according to the companies involved. Indeed, Pine Telephone Company has asked for $87 million.

Companies in the FCC's program continue to lobby Congress to allocate the remaining $3.7 billion they're asking for to complete the "rip and replace" effort. According to some analysts, Congress is likely to cough up that money in the coming months.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

About the Author(s)

Mike Dano

Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading

Mike Dano is Light Reading's Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies. Mike can be reached at [email protected], @mikeddano or on LinkedIn.

Based in Denver, Mike has covered the wireless industry as a journalist for almost two decades, first at RCR Wireless News and then at FierceWireless and recalls once writing a story about the transition from black and white to color screens on cell phones.

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