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US tensions push Huawei toward Europe on 5G

Chinese company targets mid-2019 for rollout of cutting-edge phones

The Huawei exhibition booth at the Mobile World Congress in Shanghai on June 27. The company is placing a heavy focus on 5G products and services at the event.   © Chinatopix via AP

SHANGHAI -- Huawei Technologies is targeting Europe as a market for its 5G wireless services amid frictions with the U.S.

The Chinese company will release smartphones supporting 5G as early as mid-2019, Deputy Chairman and rotating CEO Eric Xu Zhijun told the Mobile World Congress Shanghai that kicked off here Wednesday.

These new models could incorporate technologies in virtual and augmented reality -- Huawei's recent focus --  even though Xu did not provide details.

While Huawei is unable to sell its smartphones in the U.S. after AT&T backed out of a deal in January, the company is catching up with Samsung Electronics and Apple in global market share, including in Europe, Africa and Japan. The smartphone maker is likely envisioning a similar scenario for 5G.

Chinese companies are using the event -- the largest industry fair in Asia -- to show off not only their latest smartphones but also developments in essential 5G infrastructure like base stations. They are also touting efforts to expand applications for the technology.

China Unicom has started testing 5G service in 16 cities and is creating new uses for the technology, for example in fields like education and transportation, Senior Vice President Shao Guanglu said at an event before the congress.

Since the specifications for 5G are already standardized, collaboration with other industries will be key to commercialization. Wen Ku, a director at China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, said that partnerships with global businesses will be vital, suggesting that Beijing will promote cooperation with foreign companies.

Huawei is a leader in partnering with companies overseas and currently has its eyes set on Europe. It is testing 5G base stations with Germany's Deutsche Telekom that are scheduled to launch in 2019 and has partnered with the U.K.'s Vodafone on next-generation mobile communications networks. The company is also testing 5G with Japan's SoftBank Group.

Huawei was the top patent filer in Europe last year, with numerous inventions in fields like wireless technology. Companies from around the world are looking to team with Huawei for its strength in 5G.

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