By Sarah March
BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany has become even more dependent on Huawei for its 5G radio access network equipment (RAN) than for its 4G network, according to a new report, despite growing concerns over China’s involvement in critical infrastructure.
Many European countries, under intense diplomatic pressure from the United States, have barred Chinese companies from accessing all or part of their 5G networks over security concerns.
However, according to the survey by telecom consultancy Strand Consult, Huawei accounts for 59% of Germany’s 5G RAN – the base stations and associated infrastructure that connect smartphones to the network – compared to 57% in 4G networks.
The poll, which will be released next week but is due to be seen by Reuters, provides an overview of the roles played by China’s Huawei and ZTE in rolling out next-generation mobile networks across Europe and credits the region’s largest economy for its continued reliance on it forth top trading partner.
“There are indications that Germany has not taken the security threat posed by China seriously,” says the study, drawing comparisons to the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which opponents have long criticized as a security risk, but which Berlin justified by saying that Russia no weapons will use energy.
Huawei has repeatedly denied that its equipment poses a security risk, and has accused Washington of a protectionist desire to help US firms that cannot compete with its technology and pricing.
Huawei did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this story.
Germany, home to operators like Deutsche Telekom and O2, passed an IT security law two years ago, imposing high hurdles on telecom equipment manufacturers for the “critical components” of 5G networks.
Critics point out that the requirements for the core network, where sensitive data is processed, are toughest, but say it is so intertwined with the RAN infrastructure that both can pose security risks.
The German network agency referred Reuters to a regulation that provides for differentiated treatment of core and RAN components. The Information Security Bureau did not respond to a request for comment on whether the high proportion of Chinese components could pose a security risk.
Jens Zimmermann, MP for the Social Democrats (SPD), the highest-ranking coalition party in the German federal government, accused telecom operators of sticking to the minimum requirements of the new law rather than its spirit.
“If this attitude persists, we must tighten the legal framework,” said the digital policy spokesman for the SPD.
GERMANY COULD TIGHTEN THE REGULATIONS
The Strand report shows that while Germany is not alone in increasing the use of Chinese-made RAN equipment in its 5G network, many small European countries, particularly the Nordic and eastern states such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia, are not use.
In some of those countries, author John Strand told Reuters, operators themselves have chosen non-Chinese operators to keep suspicious corporate customers happy.
However, the report found that Huawei has a higher market share in Berlin than in Beijing, where it faces stiff competition from domestic competitor ZTE.
A strategy paper by the German Economics Ministry, led by the Greens, recommends increased testing of components from authoritarian states in critical infrastructures.
“We need a general overhaul of economic cooperation with companies from autocratic states,” said Green Party member Konstantin von Notz, chairman of the parliamentary committee for intelligence services.
A more active approach is needed to secure Germany’s sovereignty “over against countries like Russia and China”.
(Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Additional reporting by Supantha Mukherjee in Stockholm; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)