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Rural internet provider Xplornet Communications Inc. is turning to Swedish supplier Ericsson for gear to build its 5G wireless broadband in rural Canada.

The decision marks a departure from Xplornet’s previous reliance on equipment from China’s Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., which is prevalent in its existing network. It’s unclear whether the Shenzhen-based company will be permitted to supply technology for Canada’s fifth-generation wireless networks, as Ottawa has yet to conclude a cybersecurity review of 5G that began more than two years ago.

All three of Canada’s largest telecom providers – BCE Inc., Telus Corp. and Rogers Communications Inc. – have opted to start building out their 5G networks without Huawei gear, turning instead to Ericsson, Finland’s Nokia Corp. or South Korean supplier Samsung.

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Johanne Senécal, vice-president of government and public affairs at Xplornet, said the decision to go with Ericsson for its radio access network, the gear on wireless towers and cell sites, was made for technical reasons.

“Xplornet holds a unique combination of spectrum assets across Canada and we have determined that Ericsson is the best 5G equipment supplier for our network,” Ms. Senécal said.

Xplornet says it will begin rolling out the new service across its network in the summer of 2021. The company serves about a million rural Canadians using a combination of fibre optics, wireless and satellites.

Fifth-generation wireless technology has been proposed as a way of delivering high-speed broadband to rural and remote areas, where it would be too costly and time consuming to lay fibre-optic cables to each individual home. Fixed wireless technology allows for a fibre-optic network to be extended with wireless signals, making it a cheaper and faster alternative.

Canadians living outside of major cities typically pay more for slower, less reliable internet connections, and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this digital divide, as schools, workplaces and even health-care services have moved online to curb the spread of the virus.

Canada is the only member of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing group – which includes Britain, Australia, the United States and New Zealand – that has not banned or restricted the use of Huawei 5G gear. The U.S. has been pressing its allies to enact such bans over concerns that Huawei could be compelled to help Beijing spy on, or sabotage, Western networks.

Other countries building 5G wireless networks without Huawei include Sweden, Japan and Taiwan. India is reportedly phasing out equipment from the manufacturer amid a border dispute with China, while Germany and France have encouraged their telecom providers to look elsewhere. Huawei was also shut out of a recent tender to supply 5G gear in Italy.

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