The cost of replacing Huawei kit across the US could be much higher than expected

(Image credit: BT)

The cost of removing and replacing telecom equipment made by Chinese vendors such as Huawei and ZTE could set the US government back much more than previously thought.

Chinese vendors have largely been excluded from the US market due to ongoing concerns about security, with major carriers opting to use radio equipment from Ericsson, Nokia, and others.

However, several smaller providers still use kit from the likes of Huawei and ZTE because it is relatively inexpensive. The Rural Wireless Association, which represents operators with fewer than 100,000 customers, estimates a quarter of its members have Chinese-made kit in their networks.

Huawei FCC

Congress had earmarked around $1.9 billion for the Supply Chain Reimbursement Program, which provides federal funds to operators who are reliant on such kit, with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) opening up applications late last year.

FCC Chairwomen Jessica Rosenworcel has now told congress that it has received applications from 181 operators requesting a grand total of $5.6 billion.

“We’ve received over 181 applications from carriers who have developed plans to remove and replace equipment in their networks that pose a national security threat,” she said. “While we have more work to do to review these applications, I look forward to working with Congress to ensure that there is enough funding available for this program to advance Congress’s security goals and ensure that the US will continue to lead the way on 5G security.”

Of course, it remains to be seen whether all of the applications will be approved and how much funding Congress will provide.

Huawei has persistently denied any allegations of wrongdoing, while Washington has yet to provide any evidence to support its claims. The Chinese government considers the US’s actions to be politically motivated.

Separately, Huawei is also banned from dealing with US suppliers without a licence, severely limiting its access to key technologies such as chips and the Android operating system. Recently, there were moves to make the licence system even more restrictive.

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Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.