Wednesday, 08 April 2020

Can the US crack Huawei's hold on Africa?

by Harry Baldock, Total Telecom
Monday 17 February 20

Despite US protestations, Africa continues to embrace Huawei technology

Between the UK’s decision on Huawei last month and Attorney General William Barr’s strange proposal that the US purchase Ericsson and Nokia, it is all too easy to get swept up in the Eurocentric furor surrounding the US–China trade war.   But in Africa, somewhat set apart from the prying eyes of the international media machine, the very same technology proxy war rages on between the two superpowers…

Between the UK’s decision on Huawei last month and Attorney General William Barr’s strange proposal that the US purchase Ericsson and Nokia, it is all too easy to get swept up in the Eurocentric furor surrounding the US–China trade war.
 
But in Africa, somewhat set apart from the prying eyes of the international media machine, the very same technology proxy war rages on between the two superpowers. 
 
And China’s Huawei appears to be winning.
 
Much as it has over Europe, the US has been using its diplomatic might to try to disuade African governments from using Huawei technology.
 
Ousting Huawei will not be easy, however, as the Chinese giant being well established, having first entered the African market in Kenya in 1998. Through almost three decades of aggressive expansion, based on a strategy of cheap financing and speedy deployment, Huawei now has 4G networks in 40 African countries.
 
In May last year, Huawei signed an agreement with the African Union, reiterating its ongoing cooperation with African nations in meeting their technological needs.
 
Not only this, Huawei is also key to Africa’s 5G ambitions. South Africa was the first African nation to launch a 5G network and did so using Huawei technology. Uganda and Egypt followed, and now Kenya’s biggest operator, Safaricom, is planning on launching 5G next month with Huawei as its main partner.
 
These could be the first of many African nations to double down on their relationship with Huawei, who offer a fast and cost-effective solution when it comes to 5G equipment.
 
“We don’t expect that African governments will bow to US pressure to keep Huawei out of any potential 5G roll-outs or 4G network upgrades. Most African operators are keen to slash costs where possible for 5G, and one area is to adopt cost-effective Chinese telecoms equipment,” commented Kenny Liew, telecommunications analysts at Fitch Solutions, back in December.
 
Encompassed in this use of Huawei technology is surely also an element of cultural dissatisfaction at being stuck in the middle of this ongoing diplomatic conflict. As so often in its history, the African continent finds itself a staging ground for the geopolitical power struggles of the international community. 
 
To the US, the figurative ‘loss’ of Africa to Chinese technology may not seem as significant as, for example, Germany, but this is short term thinking: Africa is one of the fastest growing telcoms markets in the world, with penetration and profitability growth far exceedng that of gobal averages.
 
Huawei's investment in Africa is significant, with Huawei Marine, the company’s submarine cable arm, even helping to deploy a key 12,000km cable system connecting Africa to Asia.
 
The US has a lot of work to do if it intends to limit Huawei’s future in Africa.
 
 
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