Vodafone NZ says it has gained approval from the GCSB for its 5G upgrade, which will use gear from Finnish company Nokia Networks.

The telco says it will upgrade 100 cellsites in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown to 5G or fifth-generation mobile network technology by December, plus add 20 5G cows (cellsites on wheels that can be deployed at events or holiday hotspots).

"Having completed notification, as required under Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Act 2013 (Ticsa), we have been advised by the GCSB that our proposed 5G deployment does not raise any network security risk," Vodafone NZ spokesman Rich Llewellyn told the Herald this morning.

"We will continue to engage with relevant agencies including the National Cyber Security Centre, and work closely with our infrastructure partner Nokia, to ensure our 5G network remains compliant with all New Zealand laws and regulations."

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The GCSB earlier declined comment on Vodafone's application after a letter from Huawei to the government was leaked to NewstalkZB.

In the letter, Huawei NZ MD Yanek Fan said it would be "arbitrary and capricious" to single out his company under a "country of origin" approach when others involved in 5G technology have links to China. He gave Nokia's joint venture with the Chinese government, Nokia Shanghai Bell, as an example.

However, that argument appears to have cut no ice with the GCSB.

Spark hints it may have to drop Huawei

Last November, the spy agency blocked a Spark proposal to upgrade to 5G with Huawei as its primary technology partner.

GCSB Minister Andrew Little said there was no blanket ban on Huawei. Spark was welcome to re-submit a revised proposal that addressed the (undisclosed) security concerns relating to Huawei.

However, nine months later, Spark has yet to re-submit.

Outgoing MD Simon Moutter hinted strongly in his June 22 exit interview that his company would have to drop Huawei to make its self-imposed deadline to launch 5G by July 1 next year (a deadline that now looms more keenly, thanks to Vodafone NZ's plan to upgrade by December).

"It would seem pointless to advance the discussion around whether they [Huawei] are involved in any spying activity when they're not going to be able to serve a lot of the technology if they are on these banned technology lists," Moutter said.

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Vodafone NZ boss Jason Paris and technology director Tony Baird demo a 5G
Vodafone NZ boss Jason Paris and technology director Tony Baird demo a 5G "hologram call" during the company's 5G announcement on August 1.

"Our intention will be to have more than one vendor in our 5G portfolio so we can progress without Huawei, with another vendor."

A Spark trial 5G site at Wynyard quarter uses gear from Huawei, plus Sweden's Ericsson and US company Cisco.

2degrees, which also uses Huawei kit for its mobile network, has yet to submit a 5G proposal to the GCSB.

Herald graphic
Herald graphic

The telco's new chief executive, Mark Aue, recently said that "4.9G" upgrades could met customer needs for years to come. He was confident the GCSB's issues with Huawei would ultimately be resolved.

Trump delays Huawei ban

Overnight, US President Donald Trump delayed the implementation of an export ban on Huawei. The ban, which had been due to kick in this week, has now been pushed out by 90 days.

The White House said the delay was to help small rural telcos who used Huawei gear.

When it does come into effect, the ban will stop US companies such as Android software maker Google and chip makers Intel, Broadcom and Netcomm from supplying components to Huawei for its smartphones or network gear.