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Airspan looks to fill 5G gap left by Huawei phaseout in UK

A small tech company that has previously worked with BT to connect remote fishing villages along the Anglo-Scottish border with basic telephone services is seeking to fill the void left by Huawei, after the UK government decided to phase out the Chinese group of 5G telecommunications networks.

Airspan, which is based in Boca Raton, Florida and majority owned by Oak Investment Partners, has made several forays into the UK in the past. In addition to providing equipment to connect households in rural areas to grids, like his efforts along the Tweed River in the Borders in the 1990s, he also attempted to buy spectrum at auction.

As the kitmaker’s presence remained low as it struggled to compete with Huawei, Airspan chief executive Eric Stonestrom said the government’s decision to remove the Chinese maker from critical infrastructure and promote the use of alternative suppliers had created a new opportunity. “We tended to move out of markets where Huawei was dominant,” he said. “We are now doubling down on the UK,” he said.

Airspan, which is also backed by SoftBank, worked with the US State Department as the UK and US formed a closer alliance in telecommunications policy which saw the UK government turn around to enable businesses to use Huawei in 5G telecommunications networks. “The geopolitics are moving in the right direction with the removal of Huawei,” Stonestrom said.

The company plans to double its UK workforce to more than 200 engineers by the middle of next year and says it will undertake “aggressive” business expansion to gain business from the country’s telecommunications companies , as more and more suppliers turn to small “open RAN” providers. building 5G networks in the UK.

The Airspan equipment was used by Sprint in the United States, a deal that brought the owner of this SoftBank network to its share register, as well as Reliance Jio in India who also became a shareholder. Rakuten’s new mobile network in Japan, which has become the benchmark for open RAN technology, also used large amounts of Airspan equipment. Foxconn, the Taiwanese company that assembles the iPhone, and Qualcomm, the American chip group, are also minority shareholders of Airspan.

Traditional mobile networks rely on radio access equipment – the kit installed on masts and roofs used to transmit signals from mobile phones – which closely combines proprietary hardware with software provided by the largest vendors: Huawei, Ericsson and Nokia.

However, open RAN systems allow networks to slice and modify these components and use equipment from small businesses such as Airspan, Altiostar and Mavenir. Groups such as Vodafone and Telefónica are experimenting with the approach in contexts ranging from highly rural areas to densely populated cities, as they grapple with increasing use of data in the 5G era.

Mr Stonestrom said the UK government’s decision to support open RAN providers would disrupt what he has dubbed the ‘Nordic Alliance’ of Ericsson and Nokia, which have so far won the lion’s share of wholesale contracts to replace Huawei equipment in the UK.

UK government backed shared rural network plan to fill mobile ‘no-spots’ across the country is another chance for Airspan given its experience connecting remote areas and is already testing rural 5G technology with a British network. Financial Times

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