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Telecom Italia Likely to Exclude Nokia From Network Upgrade

Daniele Lepido and Niclas Rolander

(Bloomberg) -- Telecom Italia SpA will probably exclude Nokia Oyj from a mobile network upgrade and award the business to Ericsson AB and Huawei Technologies Co., according to people familiar with the matter.

Managers at Italy’s biggest phone carrier recently told Nokia they’re concerned the equipment maker is lagging behind rivals on 5G, and that it will likely reduce its mobile network suppliers to two from three, said the people, who asked not to be named because the discussions are private.

Telecom Italia is seeking tenders for a three-year project that may be worth about 600 million euros ($665 million), and will decide on the award as soon as this month, the people said. No final decision has been made, and Nokia could still play a role as a mobile network supplier to Telecom Italia, alongside Ericsson and Huawei, the people said.

A spokesman for Telecom Italia declined to comment. A spokeswoman for Nokia declined to comment on commercial negotiations with customers, and said the company continues to see solid momentum in its 5G business. It has 48 commercial contracts and 15 live networks for the technology, including some of the world’s largest networks, she said.

Losing the business from Telecom Italia would be a setback for Nokia, which now supplies about 30% of the carrier’s wireless gear and employs about 1,400 workers in the country. The Finnish company is struggling to keep pace with its main rivals on 5G and last month cut its profit expectations and suspended its dividend to boost research and development on the technology. Nokia shares fell 0.5% as of 10:04 a.m. in Helsinki.

While the loss may be another sign that Nokia is stumbling on 5G, the symbolic significance of the loss may outweigh the direct financial hit -- the contract is small relative to the Finnish company’s 11.3 billion euros of overall mobile equipment and service sales in 2018.

The tender is for work to improve Telecom Italia’s 15,000 radio access sites, including a buildout of 5G services at about 5,000 sites, the people said. Ericsson currently supplies about 40% of the carrier’s mobile equipment, and Huawei accounts for about 25%, they said.

Telecom Italia Chief Executive Officer Luigi Gubitosi expects the move will help the company save money by enabling it to extract lower prices from its two suppliers, the people said. This can help it tackle its 29 billion-euro debt pile, one of the biggest in the European telecommunications industry.

(Updates with Nokia shares in fifth paragraph)

To contact the reporters on this story: Daniele Lepido in Milan at dlepido1@bloomberg.net;Niclas Rolander in Stockholm at nrolander@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebecca Penty at rpenty@bloomberg.net, Jennifer Ryan

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