25 February 2016
| Alan Burkitt-Gray
AT&T is using Huawei equipment in its North American network and vice chairman Ralph de la Vega says that its performance is “excellent”.
The unannounced deal to use Huawei is in the 4G upgrade of
the networks AT&T bought a year ago when it acquired two
Mexican operators, Iusacell and Nextel. The company also uses
Ericsson equipment in AT&T Mexico.
AT&T spent $4 billion buying the companies and "we made a
commitment to the people of Mexico that we would invest another
$3 billion by 2018 to build out a 4G LTE network to 100 million
people in Mexico", De la Vega told Capacity in an
interview on the AT&T booth at Mobile World Congress in
So far the new 4G network covers 45 million the planned 100
million population, implying a spend of around $1.3 billion of
the total $3 billion. "You can do the math," said De la
He confirmed that this is the first time AT&T has used
Huawei equipment in any of its network.
The company is building out the new 4G network to be completely
integrated with its US LTE network.
"The whole idea is to make it an extension so it should look
like you’re in the US. There is very little
difference. That’s the beauty of having it
contiguous," he said. "It should be seamless. You should be
able to take a car from Canada to Mexico and you
shouldn’t drop a call."
The deal is likely to be controversial in the US because in
October 2012 the major US operators – AT&T,
Sprint, T-Mobile US and Verizon – were blocked from
buying network equipment from Chinese vendors because of
alleged security threats. Two years earlier Sprint was forced
to withdraw plans to use Huawei and ZTE equipment after a
Huawei was a supplier in Mexico before the AT&T
acquisition, but it is clear that the company has been a part
of the re-equipment programme over the past year.
"We’re hitting the major population centres. Until
we build a network that’s a high quality network
we’re not putting the AT&T brand on the
property," said De la Vega. "We’ve just finished
doing that in Mexico City and in other cities." The LTE network
now reaches 44 cities, AT&T confirmed.
Asked how the Huawei kit was performing in Mexico, De la Vega
said: "So far, excellent. Huawei is a good supplier." Would
AT&T benefit from using Huawei in the US? "Perhaps," he
said, but he acknowledged the political difficulties.
Comparing the dispute between Apple and US law enforcement, he
said: "There shouldn’t be a company that dictates
a policy to the country. By the same token there
shouldn’t be a government agency that also
dictates it unilaterally."
Neither Ericsson nor Huawei have announced their contracts with
AT&T Mexico. Asked to comment, a Huawei spokesman said:
"Huawei was the incumbent provider [before the acquisition].
It’s clear that US operators including AT&T
have been trying to build bridges with Chinese vendors. At the
start of MWC week, John Donovan, chief strategy officer and
group president of AT&T Technology and Operations, and
Radhika Venkatraman, Verizon Wireless’s SVP and
CIO, took part in a Light Reading digital
transformation summit in Barcelona that was sponsored by
Clarification, 3 March. An AT&T
spokesperson emailed the following comment: "NII Holdings
announced its selection of Huawei as Nextel
Mexico’s UMTS-based networks and related services
in 2011, prior to AT&T acquiring Nextel Mexico from NII
Holdings Inc. in April 2015."