OpenRAN could be it
The signal was easy to miss amid the noise of new lockdowns and America’s elections. Earlier this week, Vodafone, a mobile operator, announced that in Britain it would use a technology called Openran to replace some gear made by Huawei, a Chinese firm whose products are considered too much of a security risk to be used in the new 5g mobile networks. It is a sign that the much-discussed Huawei dilemma is not as intractable as it may seem—and a reminder that Openran deserves more private-sector and government support.
In recent years America has conducted a campaign against Huawei, which it worries poses a threat to Western interests and which has built a commanding position in 5g systems globally. Australia, Canada and Japan have already in effect banned Huawei from their 5g networks. In July Britain said it would phase out its gear, and on October 20th Sweden said it would impose a ban, too. More countries may follow.
The trouble is that the costs of ditching Huawei are high: you risk becoming reliant on two big Nordic firms, Nokia and Ericsson, the other main suppliers of 5g gear. In the long run a duopoly is bad for competition and innovation. And in the short run neither firm is infallible. Nokia, in particular, is in trouble. On October 29th it announced a drop in sales of 7% year on year, and its shares plunged by almost 20%. Its new boss said that it had been “clearly behind” on 5g.