Telecoms: Germany ready to ban Huawei and ZTE from 5G networks

Telecoms: Germany ready to ban Huawei and ZTE from 5G networks

In a tense geopolitical context with China, Germany is tightening its controls on Huawei and ZTE. The Ministry of the Interior plans to order telecom operators to remove the equipment provided by the two Chinese giants from their 5G networks – a delicate operation which would be very expensive for German “telcos”.

A decision should be made by the summer, the daily Handelsblatt learned from government sources. It would follow in the footsteps of the American regulator (FCC), which has already banned telecom equipment and services supplied by half a dozen Chinese companies last November.

A computer security law adopted after long debates two years ago already provides for each 5G component of telecom equipment manufacturers to be tested and certified by the German agency for computer security, the BSI – equivalent to the French Anssi – and by the intelligence services ( BND), including during software updates.

Banned from core networks

Since then, Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone or Telefónica Deutschland (O2) have de facto virtually banned Chinese equipment from their network cores (the most critical part) when launching 5G in Germany. “Deutsche Telekom already decided at the end of 2019 to exclude Chinese equipment manufacturers from its core mobile network. Ericsson and Mavenir are our main partners here,” confirms the leading German operator to Les Echos.

This is also the case in France, where a law passed in 2019 has set several red lines: no 5G network cores signed Huawei, nor Huawei antennas in Paris. Other restrictions also apply to “strategic” areas for industrial or military reasons, such as Brest or Toulouse. On the rest of the territory, the operators, on the other hand, have been able to install Huawei 5G antennas, subject however to the green light from Anssi.

Similarly, in Germany, Huawei would still provide nearly 60% of the equipment at the edge of networks, for access to antennas, according to the consulting firm Strand Consult. Thus, to update the antenna access network (RAN), “5G components can only be placed on 4G components from the same manufacturer” specifies Deutsche Telekom. This is why the incumbent operator uses the existing providers Ericsson and Huawei in Germany for the deployment of 5G in the antenna network.

“If a component were to be excluded, it would be necessary to provide a sufficiently long period for its replacement”, recalls Telefonica, which has relied on several suppliers for its network. The operator also hopes for compensation rules “in the event of retroactive modification”. Vodafone, for its part, refuses to comment, citing “political speculation”.

Drone and CCTV alerts

Until now, only the central network was considered a critical infrastructure, but the German intelligence services are constantly warning about the transfer of risks to the access networks. The European Commission had also published recommendations last October for States to ensure “without delay” to restrict the access of “high-risk suppliers” to these networks.

For its part, Huawei refutes the accusations of espionage and ensures that all German legal constraints have been respected.

The ministry’s thinking more generally relates to the security of critical infrastructures in Germany. Huawei, for example, equips the radio network of the railway company Deutsche Bahn. The Bavarian police use more than a hundred drones from the Chinese specialist DJI for civil security.

The Ministry of the Interior also questions the use of surveillance cameras from Chinese manufacturers Hikvision and Dahua in train stations and airports. Germany would use more than 76,000, according to the daily Handelsblatt, against more than 100,000 in France.

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