Nokia CEO warns 5G implementation in Europe 'will be delayed'

Key Points
  • "I think 5G will be delayed in Europe," Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri tells CNBC.
  • Suri says a lack of spectrum and regulatory hurdles are to blame.
  • Nokia is watching the controversy around Huawei "closely," Suri says.
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Nokia CEO warns 5G implementation 'will be delayed in Europe'

Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri warned that the implementation of next-generation 5G networks in Europe will be delayed due to spectrum issues and regulation.

"I think 5G will be delayed in Europe," Suri told CNBC's Karen Tso on Monday.

He made the comments at the 2019 Mobile World Congress, the biggest industry trade show of the year, where the advancement toward 5G standards has become one of the dominant topics.

Suri suggested Europe's execution of the new technology would lag behind peers like the U.S. and China, which are making major strides in the development of 5G.

Nokia's boss said the main reason European telecommunications players would fall behind was a lack of spectrum — the radio waves required for high-speed wireless networks — across the continent, as well as regulatory hurdles.

"Spectrum is available in some countries, not all," he said, adding that the market was "overregulated" and that "consolidation is not permitted."

European firms have been bidding for their share of high-speed airwaves for 5G, with Italy's government hauling a record $7.6 billion in a spectrum auction in October.

Suri's comments came as Nokia and fellow European telecom firm Telenor announced a deal to trial 5G capabilities in Denmark. A number of other companies have been conducting their own pilots, including Orange, BT and Deutsche Telekom.

Rajeev Suri, president and CEO of Nokia, is seen speaking during a presentation of new products.
Paco Freire | SOPA Images | LightRocket via Getty Images

The gradual transition toward 5G has been clouded by increasing controversy surrounding the Chinese tech giant Huawei.

Western countries led by the U.S. are worried the firm's telecom equipment could provide a backdoor for Chinese government spying and have blocked the deployment of its technology in 5G rollouts as a result. Huawei has repeatedly denied the claims.

For his part, Suri said Nokia is watching the developments around Huawei "closely."

"We will be there for our customers when they need us," he said. "But it's sort of beyond Nokia."

He added: "All I can say is that security will be non-negotiable in the world of 5G."

A number of smartphone makers — Huawei included — have been announcing 5G-enabled phones at this year's MWC.

Huawei debuted a foldable smartphone, following in Samsung's footsteps, which runs on a 5G-compatible chipset. The firm said its new $2,600 phone, dubbed the Mate X, would let users download a one-gigabyte movie in three seconds.

Meanwhile, Vodafone CEO Nick Read warned Monday that banning the use of Huawei's 5G equipment in Europe would be "very very expensive" for operators and consumers. He said it would delay Europe's 5G rollout by "probably two years."

"It structurally disadvantages Europe," he said "Of course the U.S. don't have that problem because they don't put Huawei equipment in."

- CNBC's Elizabeth Schulze contributed to this report.