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The UK's biggest cell phone operator pauses launch of Huawei's 5G phones

Ryan Browne
  • EE will put the launch of Huawei 5G devices on pause as the U.S. places renewed political pressure on the Chinese telecommunications giant.
  • Huawei is considered a leader in 5G, but U.S. officials are concerned its equipment could be used for Chinese espionage.

EE, the operator of the United Kingdom largest cell phone network, said Wednesday that it wouldn't offer 5G smartphones from Huawei.

The company, which is owned by telecommunications giant BT BT.A-GB , will put the launch of Huawei's 5G devices on pause as the United States places renewed political pressure on the Chinese telecommunications giant.

"Until we get the information and confidence that gives us the long term surety that our customers, when they buy those devices, are going to be supported for the lifetime they've got the device with us ... we've put those devices on pause," EE CEO Marc Allera said Wednesday.

"When that information changes, then we'll move forward and hopefully launch them, but for now we've put that on pause."

An EE spokeperson subsequently told CNBC the firm was working with Huawei and Google GOOGL to "make sure we can carry out the right level of testing and quality assurance."

A spokesperson for Huawei meanwhile said it recognized the pressure its suppliers are facing amid "politically motivated decisions."

"We are confident this regrettable situation can be resolved and our priority remains to continue to deliver world-class technology and products to our customers around the world."

EE is set to launch its 5G service in the U.K. next Thursday, meaning it will be the first British cell phone operator to do so.

The race toward 5G has become a massive battleground for major telecommunications companies, with U.S. giant Verizon VZ rolling out its next-generation network for smartphones earlier this year .

That race has been complicated however by increasing pressure from Washington on Huawei, the top telecommunications equipment maker worldwide. Huawei is considered a leader in 5G, but U.S. officials are concerned its equipment could be used for Chinese espionage, a claim the firm denies.

President Donald Trump's administration recently added Huawei to a trade blacklist that means it can't buy U.S. technology before gaining special approval from the government. The U.S. did, however, relax those restrictions temporarily, giving mobile and internet broadband firms a 90-day reprieve to continue working with Huawei.

Google GOOGL initially decided to stop licensing its Android mobile operating system to Huawei, only to then say it would continue sending software updates to the Shenzhen-based firm's phones, following the announcement of temporary exemptions.

Francisco Jeronimo, associate vice president for European devices at IDC, said network carriers likely "don't want to sell a device that will not provide the full Android experience to their customers."

"If there's no solution to this case, I wonder if operators and retailers will start taking Huawei devices off the shelves and reduce the investment they are putting into Huawei devices."



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