EE keeps Huawei in first British 5G network but halts handsets

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s biggest mobile operator EE said on Wednesday its 5G network would rely on equipment made by China’s Huawei, at least for the first few years, as it announced plans to switch on the next-generation services on May 30.

FILE PHOTO: Signage is seen outside an EE mobile phone shop in Manchester, Britain September 21, 2017. REUTERS/Phil Noble

However, BT-owned EE joined rival Vodafone in pulling a Huawei smartphone from its 5G launch line-up because of uncertainty about support by Google’s Android after a U.S. move to block the Chinese firm’s access to its technology.

The United States has said Huawei is a security risk and open to spying by Beijing, a claim the Chinese company denies.

The government will rule imminently whether Huawei will be allowed to participate in these new networks.

EE Chief Executive Marc Allera said its planned 5G launch was “the start of the UK’s 5G journey and great news for our customers that want and need the best connections”.

Britain had given the green light for the launch, which will see six cities including London, Cardiff and Edinburgh switched on next week and another 10 by the end of the year, he added.

“We do believe it is important for the UK that we are in the pack of the leading nations (for 5G),” he said. “At the moment we have no instructions [from government] to change our plans.”

EE has said it was already removing Huawei networking equipment from it core network. BT Group’s technology chief Howard Watson, however, said 5G would start before Huawei was totally removed from the core of its network.

“We are launching 5G with Huawei in the radio access network and we are using an upgraded version of that existing core, which will then ... be migrated away from,” Watson said.

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EE and Vodafone have opened orders for 5G phones, for example from Samsung, to be available when their networks launch.

Apple does not yet have a 5G phone and analysts do not expect it to launch one until 2020 at the earliest.

Users were already regularly achieving speed of 500Mbps in tests networks, Allera said, adding that he was confident speeds of 1Gbps would be reached by the end of the year.

Average speeds at launch would be about 200Mbps, five times faster than typical top 4G speeds, while EE said smartphone tariffs would range from 54 pounds ($68) a month for 10GB of data to 74 pounds a month for 120GB.

It aims to have 1,500 5G sites by the end of 2019, targeting the busiest areas of the busiest cities, he said.

Industry analyst Kester Mann from CCS said he “applauded a realistic launch” that did not over-inflate expectations.

“Although being the first UK network to launch 5G will mean little to consumers, EE clearly see it as an important honor,” he said. Vodafone launches on July 3.

Huawei’s Mate 20X (5G) had been expected to be among the devices available on both company’s superfast networks, but EE dropped the company from a launch line-up that includes Samsung’s Galaxy S10 5G, and devices from Oppo, LG and OnePlus.

“We have put the Huawei devices on pause until we have got a bit some more information,” Allera said, adding that EE needed to be sure the devices it supplies are going to be supported.

Vodafone UK took the same step, stopping pre-orders for the handset before the launch of its network.

Huawei, the world’s second-biggest phone maker runs its devices on Google’s Android platform outside China, but the U.S. Commerce Department blocked Huawei from buying U.S. goods last week, throwing future software updates into question.

Britain was set to allow Huawei some participation in the radio part of 5G networks but bar it from the intelligent core. But a decision has not been announced, and the U.S. and some politicians are pushing for a more far-reaching ban.

Editing by Kate Holton and Alexander Smith