The German government is weighing whether to ban Huawei and ZTE from 5G network equipment in the country. The move follows a broader review of the country’s relationship with China.
According to a Reuters report, the country’s interior ministry has put forward a paper that would ban components made by Chinese vendors from being used in telecommunication networks. That includes components already installed, which operators would have to remove and replace without compensation.
A ban on certain Huawei and ZTE components in Germany’s 5G networks would put operators in a tough position. The review, which is part of a broader re-evaluation of Germany’s relationship with China, could see telecoms operators forced to remove and replace parts already built into their infrastructure, according to media reports.
Critics of China’s telecom equipment makers have long warned that Chinese spies and saboteurs could embed them into ubiquitous mobile networks and thereby gain access to a swathe of essential infrastructure. Those concerns have grown as the US and other governments increasingly focus on security risks from Beijing’s close ties to telecommunications companies.
Germany has passed an IT security law setting high hurdles for makers of telecommunications equipment for next-generation networks but stopping short of banning Chinese firms Huawei and ZTE as some other nations have done. Now a new report shows that Germany has actually become even more dependent on Chinese vendors for 5G radio access network (RAN) equipment than it was in 4G, and would be severely impacted by a ban or regulation.
The new ban could include components already built into mobile networks, which would mean operators would have to remove and replace them – a process that would likely cost hundreds of millions of euros for telecoms operators such as BT and Deutsche Telekom.
Those urging a ban in Germany and elsewhere cite the United States’ campaign to persuade its allies that the Chinese firms pose a serious security threat, with alleged links to Chinese spies and saboteurs. However, China and its vendors have repeatedly denied these allegations, saying they are driven by protectionist interests to promote non-Chinese rivals.
Germany is considering a ban on specific components of Chinese telecoms companies such as Huawei and ZTE that are used in critical parts of mobile networks. It would be a significant move for Berlin, which previously resisted calls to exclude China-made gear from its 5G networks in the name of security.
As a result, German telecommunications firms such as Vodafone and Telefonica could have to spend billions of euros to swap out their equipment from Huawei or ZTE. It’s a cost that the operators must be prepared to pay.
The decision is part of a broader revamp of Germany’s relationship with China, which has seen it adopt a more confrontational approach. Among other things, the country has launched a review of its 5G telecoms infrastructure to check whether Chinese suppliers are controlled by their governments. This is a big change from previous policy that had seen Germany resisted pressure from Washington to exclude Chinese equipment.
The US, the UK and Europe have increasingly moved to ban equipment and devices from Chinese vendors due to national security concerns. These moves have been aimed at Huawei and ZTE, which have been accused of supplying critical infrastructure to Beijing’s intelligence agencies.
Germany is one of the most influential telecoms markets in the world and its economy is heavily intertwined with China. The country’s political leaders have tried to stay neutral in the trade war with the United States but they now have to take the national security risks seriously.
The government has now said it is conducting a review of all tech suppliers, including Chinese companies like Huawei and ZTE. The review could mean that if any of these suppliers were to be found to have security issues, operators would need to remove their equipment and replace it with new components.