Shunned by the West, Huawei powers SA’s 5G networks

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Rejected by the Western countries, Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei is continuing to deploy its technologies to power South Africa’s thriving 5G networks.

This as SA is still in the early stages of switching on super-fast 5G networks, with mobile operators awaiting more spectrum allocation from government.

Although the technology is still a long way from becoming mainstream, so far Vodacom, MTN and mobile data-only network Rain have activated their next-generation 5G networks in parts of SA.

According to Vanashree Govender, Huawei’s spokesperson in SA, all three telcos that have launched 5G are using Huawei in parts of their 5G networks, including the Huawei 5G CPE router.

Other companies which are also providing their technologies include the likes of Nokia, Ericsson and ZTE, as South African telcos are taking a multi-vendor approach in their 5G deployments.

While South African telcos have put their faith in Huawei, the company is being shunned in the West following pressure from the US government, which is engaged in a trade war with China.

The US has banned Huawei from its 5G networks, citing “national security” issues surrounding Huawei’s alleged close ties to the Chinese government. The telecommunications company has vehemently denied the claims.

Trade war bargaining chip

There have also been questions as to whether US president Donald Trump may have used the US clampdown on Huawei as a bargaining chip in the US-China trade dispute, and to boost his re-election campaign.

After initially giving Huawei a limited role in its 5G infrastructure, the UK government recently gave in to pressure from the US by making a sudden U-turn which completely removes the Chinese company from the country’s 5G network.

France recently informed wireless operators of a de facto ban on using equipment from Huawei Technologies, according to multiple media reports, becoming the latest Western nation to block the Chinese company from its 5G infrastructure.

Besides these headwinds in the West, Huawei has had support from the South African telecommunications industry and government.

Rain launched its intelligent 5G transport network in partnership with Huawei. According to Huawei, transport networks can be thought of as the “neural networks” that connect core networks to services.

Rain CTO Gustav Schoeman said the mobile data-only network will further strengthen its partnership with Huawei in 5G network innovation and practice to offer a top service experience to users.

MTN’s 5G deployment in Johannesburg uses Huawei's Massive MIMO technology, which enables high-bandwidth such as 4K video, multi-angle video and AR/VR services.

“It is important to note that we built these networks using tailored, innovative solutions for each carrier to deal with the current constraints facing local telcos, so they are able to deliver a world-class 5G service to their customers, ensuring South Africa is not left behind in the 5G race,” says Govender.

As the technology begins to gain traction in SA, Huawei moved to launch 5G-compatible handsets in the country in the flagship P40 and P40 Pro smartphones.

“As telcos ramp up their 5G investments, Huawei will continue to leverage our experience in 5G deployment across the world to bring the most innovative network solutions, enterprise use cases and advanced consumer products to South Africa, so that we can reap the benefit of this new transformative technology,” Govender notes.

“We are still in the early days of 5G in SA, with spectrum auctions still to be carried out and other factors like widespread fibre deployment. In SA and in Africa, we advocate for the maturity of the LTE ecosystem from network upgrades to enterprise solutions and end-user services; this is a critical foundation for 5G deployment,” she adds.

Firmly established in SA

Derrick Chikanga, IT services analyst at Africa Analysis, comments that Huawei has a long history in SA, dating back to the late 90s.

Since then, he says, the company has established its presence by offering its services to some of the leading ICT providers in SA.

“As such, most service providers have been heavily reliant on Huawei technology, which has made the company highly popular. Furthermore, the somehow ‘laidback’ approach to market by other major technology providers in SA, which is a marked difference to Huawei’s aggressive approach to market, has provided Huawei with the opportunity to thrive and solidify its presence in the local ICT market.”

In addition, Chikanga says, Huawei invests extensively in technology development and is able to stay ahead of the market with regards to providing the latest technological solutions, which makes it popular among local companies.

According to Chikanga, Huawei remains critical to SA’s 5G push, given that the company has been a key supplier of ICT technologies to SA for decades now.

“Its [Huawei’s] technology has formed the basis of ICT infrastructure of most leading telecom operators. As such, Huawei’s technology will enable a seamless transition to 5G connectivity.”

However, it is also important to note that other technology providers such as Ericsson and Nokia are silently making headway in the 5G space, Chikanga notes.

“Other companies such as Ericsson have demonstrated capabilities in offering 5G technologies in SA. Recently, the company launched its 5G network services in partnership with MTN South Africa in the cities of Bloemfontein and Port Elizabeth.

“ZTE Corporation has also been working closely with MTN South Africa to develop its 5G capabilities. As such, both Ericsson and ZTE could provide significant competition to Huawei in the future,” Chikanga concludes.

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