Dr Mark Gregory, associate professor in network engineering at RMIT, told iTWire in response to queries that each of Optus and Vodafone would probably have to spend hundreds of millions to replace the Huawei equipment they had in their 4G networks with equipment from either Ericsson or Nokia.
The Australian Government is set to decide in the next couple of months whether to give Huawei a role in the 5G network rollout. It has been under enormous pressure from the US to ban the company from participation, with the Americans making allegations that Huawei could indulge in spying on behalf of the Chinese Government, though they have not offered a shred of proof.
Huawei has strongly denied these claims and offered to set up a security assurance testing centre in Australia, as it has done in the UK and Canada, and is building in New Zealand.
Gregory said the last thing that Australia needed — especially in view of the mess created by the rollout of the national broadband network, the NBN — was chaos when 5G was introduced.
He said newcomer TPG — which has a single site at the moment, running on Huawei equipment — would also be affected, given that it would have planned its mobile deployment based on a certain set of numbers. Huawei equipment is much cheaper than that sold by either Ericsson or Nokia.
The fourth company capable of handling a job as large as a 5G rollout is ZTE but, as it is also a Chinese company, is unlikely to be considered by Australia.
"Optus and Vodafone would be behind by 12 to 18 months and Telstra would benefit. But consumers would lose out as prices would not fall, rather they would go up," Gregory said.
He pointed out that he had proposed the idea of a security assurance centre for some time, even writing to senior politicians about it recently.
He said such a centre would make it possible for all equipment to be tested and verified, removing the spectre of suspicion from a product once and for all. "That is the way to go in the long term," he added.