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5G networks

Europe adopts Huawei gear into 5G networks over US objections

Countries including UK and Netherlands seek balance between security and cost

Many European countries already have Huawei Technologies equipment in their 4G networks, which would be costly to replace.   © Reuters

LONDON -- European countries are allowing some products from China's Huawei Technologies into their fifth-generation wireless infrastructure despite U.S. security concerns, weighing the cost of replacing existing Huawei equipment against the risk of angering Washington.

"Insufficient security will impede the United States' ability to share certain information with trusted networks," U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in London on May 8., making the case that the U.K. -- a member of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance along with the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand -- should not use Huawei equipment in its 5G networks.

But a full ban may not be realistic for the U.K. and other countries that have already incorporated Huawei gear into their 4G infrastructure. The Chinese telecommunications company controlled more than 40% of the European base-station market last year, beating even Northern European rivals Nokia and Ericsson.

Replacing every piece of Huawei gear would make the transition to 5G even more costly. And government debates over whether to shut out Huawei or any other company risk delaying the rollout of the superfast wireless service, to consumers' detriment.

As a result, some countries are allowing limited use of Huawei equipment. The British government approved the company's involvement in noncore parts of 5G networks last month, though British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said after the meeting with Pompeo that "we have not made our final decision as a government."

BT Group, the country's largest internet service provider, has said it will source some peripheral equipment like antennas from the company. Dutch carrier KPN is taking a similar route.

The Czech Republic held a 5G security conference this month attended by representatives from 30 countries and institutions -- including the U.S. China was not invited.

The European Union is seeking a way to manage the risks from Huawei's involvement without blocking it entirely, a diplomatic insider said. The invitation to Washington was likely intended to bring it into the conversation from the outset.

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