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Interview

Huawei remains 'confident' of winning Vietnam 5G deals

Local CEO sees opportunity despite headwinds in Western markets

Fine Fan, CEO of Huawei Vietnam, spoke to Nikkei in Hanoi. 

HANOI -- Huawei Technologies believes it stands a good chance of being chosen to supply 5G network equipment to Vietnam's mobile carriers, the Chinese company's local chief executive said in an interview.

"We are confident of expanding in Vietnam," Fine Fan told the Nikkei Asian Review. Hanoi is yet to release detailed guidelines for the adoption of 5G networks.

Fan said Huawei is already in talks with potential local partners regarding 5G trials later this year, without disclosing further details.

Huawei's global expansion has faced headwinds as countries block or reconsider participation by the world's biggest telecommunications equipment supplier in local 5G network projects.

"It will be difficult to overcome these issues overnight," Fan acknowledged. But in Southeast Asia, the company has enjoyed some recent successes, including the decision by leading Philippines wireless carrier Globe Telecom to go ahead with Huawei-powered 5G service this year.

"We cannot be beaten on quality or cost" in Vietnam, he said. "Huawei will provide better technology and solutions, along with financial support to local operators to deploy 5G."

Huawei has been the largest provider of 2G and 3G network equipment in Vietnam, though the company lost its lead when 4G arrived, according to Fan.

"We will focus on better communications with local operators and the government on 5G development," Fan said.

Major mobile carriers in Vietnam have already announced plans to develop 5G networks using equipment from other suppliers, including Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung Electronics.

Viettel, the country's biggest mobile carrier, received a trial license to start testing 5G service in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City -- partly using its own technology. The company said it has made progress in developing core software and hardware for 5G.

Vietnam Posts and Telecommunications Group, the owner of No. 2 carrier Vinaphone, has teamed with Nokia to develop a 5G network. Third-ranked MobiFone signed an agreement with Samsung in March to boost 5G-related development.

Local carriers plan to launch ultrafast 5G networks by 2021, a move in line with the government's push to make Vietnam a hub for industries that rely on faster data transmission, such as artificial intelligence and the "internet of things."

With Washington moving to block U.S. entities from using Huawei technology due to security concerns that the company dismisses, Hanoi finds itself in a delicate position as it considers its 5G implementation strategy.

China is Vietnam's largest trading partner and economic ties with Beijing run deep. So too, however, do memories of repeated military clashes over their common border throughout the 1980s.

The Southeast Asian country is also in a cooperative relationship with the U.S. in the areas of security and economy, despite the troubled history between the two.

Vietnamese Communications Minister Nguyen Manh Hung, the communications minister, said in November that "Vietnam relied on imported base stations and other equipment for 2G and 3G networks, but the country will develop 5G infrastructure locally."

"Vietnam is on the right track to commercialize the 5G service by 2020, following the plan set by authorities," said Tham Hong Thuy, a local industry observer. "But the country will have to import 5G technology equipment for years. Huawei still has a good chance to secure 5G deals from operators who focus on the price tag and quality services, while other providers such as Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung would be picked up if the operators care about information security."

"We will comply with the government's industrial policies, and offer consultation and training programs to help local operators in deploying 5G and related contents," he said. "We will pitch our 5G offer through many activities."

Fan's comments on Vietnam's 5G policy have been revised based on a request from Huawei Vietnam.

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