Germany tightens 5G network security, may informally exclude Huawei

The German government is reportedly planning stricter oversight of telecommunications network vendors. This will make it harder for Shenzhen-based Huawei to hold its place in the German market, whilst stopping short of an outright ban.

 Government sources told media that an agreement had been reached to extend scrutiny of the governance and technology of 5G Radio Access Network (RAN) vendors, in addition to scrutiny of core network vendors. According to the German newspaper Handelsblatt, the coalition government agreed on the approach after two years of discussions.

Under this plan, vendors will be scrutinised through assessments by the German cyber-security regulator and intelligence services. They will need to be approved by key government departments in order to provide any 5G equipment. This approach has not yet been finalised.

European governments have been weighing up how to handle the role of “high-risk vendors” in their 5G rollouts. Despite Huawei’s decades-long relationships with Europe’s largest telecoms operators, the Trump-led White House from the US is exerting strong diplomatic pressure on its allies to exclude the Shenzhen-based tech giant from its operations. Current US President Donald Trump blacklisted Huawei and accused it of potentially acting as a surveillance tool for the Chinese government. Huawei has repeatedly denied these accusations.

The UK government had decided to permit Huawei to play a limited role in providing equipment for the UK’s 5G RAN. However, in July, the Government moved to completely block the company from providing equipment for any part of the UK’s 5G infrastructure and is now aiming to phase Huawei out entirely by 2027. France has informally excluded Huawei from its 5G network.

Meanwhile, the German approach to Huawei will be to effectively tie it up in red tape. A senior security official told Reuters, “The final outcome is the same [as a ban].”

All three of Germany’s major network operators (Deutsche Telekom, Telefonica Deutschland and Vodafone) use Huawei equipment in their networks and are unlikely to be delighted by this approach. Deutsche Telekom previously compared a full Huawei ban to “Armageddon” in a documented leaked earlier this year.

Keith Krach, US undersecretary of state for economic affairs, commented: “We are seeing things moving in the right direction in Germany […] there is really no future with Huawei.”

During Krach’s recent visit to Berlin, he held talks with German officials about network security. After the meeting, he described Huawei as the “backbone of the Chinese Communist Party’s surveillance state” and compared it to a parasite latching on to Germany. However, he said that the US will “respect” Germany’s own decisions on Huawei.