TPG Telecom’s $2bn plan to build Australia’s newest mobile network looks to be in tatters because of the federal government’s ban on using equipment from China’s Huawei.
TPG, which in 2017 paid $1.26bn for mobile spectrum and has already spent $100m of the $600m construction cost, said on Tuesday it had opted to use Huawei equipment before the government banned its inclusion in 5G networks on security concerns.
The announcement comes as prosecutors in the US charged Huawei with a series of crimes, accusing the firm and its executives of stealing trade secrets, laundering money, obstructing justice and defrauding banks to elude US sanctions.
The US justice department said Huawei had based its global expansion on “lies and deceit”.
TPG blamed the federal government’s August 2018 ban for halting work on what was supposed to be Australia’s fourth 4G mobile network after Telstra, Optus and Vodafone.
“The company has been exploring if there are any solutions available to address the problem created by the Huawei ban but has reached the conclusion that it does not make commercial sense to invest further shareholder funds (beyond that which is already committed) in a network that cannot be upgraded to 5G,” TPG said.
TPG, in conjunction with Vodafone, spent $263m on 5G spectrum at auction last month and has committed to spending a further $30m on construction. It had purchased equipment for 1,500 sites and has fully or partially completed the implementation of just over 900 small cell sites.
It said it did not yet know what it would do with its mobile spectrum and would update the market after weighing its options.
“It is extremely disappointing that the clear strategy the company had to become a mobile network operator at the forefront of 5G has been undone by factors outside of TPG’s control,” said its executive chairman, David Teoh.
Huawei, the world’s largest maker of telecommunications network gear, has also faced restrictions in other countries including the US.
The company has consistently denied acting on behalf of the Chinese government.
“Over the past two years, a huge amount of time and resource has been invested in creating and delivering on a strategy that would have positioned TPG very favourably to exploit the opportunities that the advent of 5G will present.”
A merger between TPG and Vodafone is being considered by the competition watchdog.