Vodafone is testing several network systems from Chinese manufacturers with the intention of buying equipment from them within the next few years.
Company spokesman Ben Padovan said the purchase of mobile phone handsets was also a possibility but one that would follow much later. The move would increase competition for Nokia and Ericsson, two of Vodafone's key suppliers of mobile phone equipment.
Vodafone spends around £5bn annually on network equipment and other capital investment.
Padovan declined to say which Chinese manufacturers were supplying equipment for the tests, what type of equipment was being tested and when the tests were expected to be completed. "We're really in a very early stage of testing, so we have very little to say at this time," he said.
He also declined to comment on why Vodafone was testing Chinese equipment, saying only that the operator was keen to drive down costs and use superior systems.
John Blau writes for IDG News Service