UK cellular phone operators pause launch of Huawei's 5G telephones amid US stress


A pedestrian walks past a Huawei product stand at an EE telecommunications shop in central London on April 29, 2019.

Tolga Akmen | AFP | Getty Images

U.K. cell phone network operators EE and Vodafone are temporarily putting the launch of 5G smartphones from Huawei on hold. The news comes as the U.S. places renewed political pressure on the Chinese telecommunications giant.

EE, which is owned by telecommunications giant BT, said it would put the launch of Huawei’s 5G devices on pause until it receives the “information and confidence” needed to support its customers.

“When that information changes, then we’ll move forward and hopefully launch them, but for now we’ve put that on pause,” EE CEO Marc Allera said Wednesday.

An EE spokesperson subsequently told CNBC the firm was working with Huawei and Google to “make sure we can carry out the right level of testing and quality assurance.”

Vodafone, meanwhile, subsequently confirmed reports that it would not be accepting pre-orders for Huawei’s 5G-enabled Huawei Mate 20 X in the U.K.

“This is a temporary measure while uncertainty exists regarding new Huawei 5G devices,” a Vodafone spokesperson told CNBC. “We will keep this situation under review.”

A spokesperson for Huawei said it recognized the pressure its suppliers are facing amid “politically motivated decisions.”

“We are confident this regrettable situation can be resolved and our priority remains to continue to deliver world-class technology and products to our customers around the world.”

EE is set to launch its 5G service in the U.K. next Thursday, meaning it will be the first British cell phone operator to do so.

The race toward 5G has become a massive battleground for major telecommunications companies, with U.S. giant Verizon rolling out its next-generation network for smartphones earlier this year.

That race has been complicated however by increasing pressure from Washington on Huawei, the top telecommunications equipment maker worldwide. Huawei is considered a leader in 5G, but U.S. officials are concerned its equipment could be used for Chinese espionage, a claim the firm denies.

President Donald Trump’s administration recently added Huawei to a trade blacklist that means it can’t buy U.S. technology before gaining special approval from the government. The U.S. did, however, relax those restrictions temporarily, giving mobile and internet broadband firms a 90-day reprieve to continue working with Huawei.

Google initially decided to stop licensing its Android mobile operating system to Huawei, only to then say it would continue sending software updates to the Shenzhen-based firm’s phones, following the announcement of temporary exemptions.

Francisco Jeronimo, associate vice president for European devices at IDC, said network carriers likely “don’t want to sell a device that will not provide the full Android experience to their customers.”

“If there’s no solution to this case, I wonder if operators and retailers will start taking Huawei devices off the shelves and reduce the investment they are putting into Huawei devices.”



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