Davos WEF

Ericsson CEO says there's 'no one ahead of us' on 5G — not even Huawei

Key Points
  • Ericsson CEO Borje Ekholm refuted claims that China's Huawei is leading the pack on 5G.
  • Ekholm said the "notion that we get a free ride" from the U.S. pressure on Huawei is false.
  • Britain and Germany are set to decide soon on whether to allow Huawei into their 5G networks.
VIDEO1:5701:57
See no one ahead of us in 5G race, Ericsson CEO says

No company is ahead of Ericsson when it comes to 5G, the Swedish firm's boss has told CNBC.

Refuting claims that China's Huawei is leading the pack on the fifth generation of mobile internet, Ericsson CEO Borje Ekholm said he sees "no one ahead of us" on the technology.

"I find it's a bit difficult to say that we're behind when I see no one ahead of us," Ekholm told CNBC's "Squawk Box Europe" at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Ekholm said that, though geopolitical tensions surrounding Huawei are "creating uncertainty in the market," the "notion that we get a free ride" as a result is false. He added that Ericsson's equipment was the first to be used in North America and Europe.

Dexter Thillien, senior industry analyst at Fitch Solutions, said it's "not true" to claim that Huawei is the "only player" in 5G, highlighting Ericsson and Finland's Nokia as two strong alternatives to the Chinese tech firm.

"Europe can be able to operate without Huawei," he told CNBC in a phone interview, adding that the U.S., Japan and South Korea have been able to launch 5G networks without the need for Huawei equipment.

VIDEO2:4902:49
Europe can build 5G network without Huawei, analyst says

Washington has led a pressure campaign against the world's top telecommunications equipment maker, urging allies including the U.K. and Germany to bar the Chinese company from their 5G networks. Both London and Berlin are expected to make decisions on whether to allow Huawei to build out their 5G infrastructure soon.

The U.S. has flagged national security concerns with Huawei, claiming the Chinese government could use a "backdoor" in the company's network gear for spying. For its part, Huawei has denied it would ever hand over data to Beijing.

"I think the whole uncertainty that we have geopolitically is not a positive," Ekholm said. "At the same time I hope we find a solution that allows the world to move forward. Security aspects are going to be critical in a 5G world."

Some telecom executives have warned that Europe could fall behind in the race to 5G if Huawei is excluded from the continent's rollout of 5G.

Vodafone CEO Nick Read last year said forcing mobile network operators to switch their Huawei kit for competitors' would "structurally disadvantage" Europe.