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Business trends

US fight dethrones Huawei as top mobile equipment provider

Ericsson regains crown with Chinese company hit by calls for ban and trade war

Huawei Technologies' 5G business is feeling the pressure of the American campaign to keep its products out of allied countries' networks.   © Reuters

BEIJING/SHENZHEN -- Huawei Technologies was unseated as the world's top telecommunications infrastructure provider in 2018 as U.S. calls to bar its products began to influence the market and put pressure on 5G operations.

Sweden's Ericsson took the crown for the first time in two years as its global market share rose 2.4 percentage points to 29%, while Huawei's fell 1.9 points to 26%, according to British research company IHS Markit. Its report said some countries hesitated to make new purchases from Huawei because of the trade war.

Ericsson controlled an overwhelming share of the North American market at 68% compared with 6% for Huawei. The Chinese company, however, has a 40% share in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, as well as 30% in the Asia-Pacific region, increasing its share in those areas by 2 percentage points.

Huawei was able to minimize the drop by strengthening sales in areas where American calls to ban its products carried little weight, IHS Markit said.

With the Trump administration pressing allied countries to shun Huawei's technology, the telecommunications industry's shift to 5G is changing the dynamics among equipment providers. As a host of countries start investing in 5G infrastructure, each government's policy will play a role in how much of the market each provider captures.

Ericsson has the largest share of expected shipments of 5G equipment with 24%, followed by Samsung Electronics of South Korea at 21%, Nokia of Finland at 20% and Huawei in fourth at 17%. Although the Chinese company is a leader in 5G-related patent filings, the U.S. campaign against Huawei seems to be taking a toll on its business.

The global telecommunications infrastructure market shrank 18% to $30.5 billion, with a major factor being the shift from 4G to 5G.

The U.S. banned government agencies from using devices made by five Chinese companies, including Huawei, in its National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2019. Australia barred Huawei from participating in its 5G network in step with the American stance, and Japan has essentially prevented government procurement of Chinese products as well.

The European Union recently recommended that member states assess the risks themselves, rather than issue a bloc-wide ban, but Germany is creating its own security standards in conjunction with the U.S.

Huawei said on March 29 that sales for the year jumped 19.5% to a record 721.2 billion yuan ($107 billion), but sales of corporate communications equipment like base stations contracted 1.3% to 294 billion yuan.

"That has never happened in recent years," said a Huawei official about the carrier segment's revenue drop.

Speaking at Huawei's Shenzhen headquarters, Rotating Chairman Guo Ping blamed the fall on the global telecommunications investment cycle, adding that carriers did not significantly increase such spending given the impending shift to 5G. He did not mention the impact of U.S. policy on the company.

Compatriot ZTE's operations were almost halted last year after it was unable to procure semiconductors due to a U.S. ban on American companies doing business with it. Guo said Huawei has a diverse base of supplier to guard against such disruptions.

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