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Huawei could be banned from 5G networks across the EU

In other news, member states are falling behind in their rollouts, says markets chief. Um...

Sanctions-hit Huawei is facing another potential blow amid reports the EU is mulling a mandatory ban on member states using kit from companies deemed to be a possible security threat in their telecoms networks.

There have been growing concerns among western nations in recent years over the perceived security threat posed by equipment sourced from countries such as China being used in 5G infrastructure. Much of this seems to have originated in the US during the Trump administration, but where Washington leads, many partners follow.

According to the Financial Times, there are concerns at a high level within the EU that some national governments are not taking enough action with regard to the matter, quoting unnamed officials said to have knowledge of the discussions.

If true, this would seem to contradict the situation back in 2020, when the official line from the European Commission was that member states were allowed to deploy kit from vendors such as Huawei as they rolled out their national 5G networks, as The Register reported at the time.

However, a key point to note is that the EU believes certain member states are failing to properly apply the guidelines that were agreed back then, including certification requirements, greater diversification of suppliers, and keeping suppliers deemed a potential security risk out of critical parts of the infrastructure, such as the network core.

The FT report claims that only a third of EU countries have blocked Huawei from critical parts of their 5G networks, and quotes EU internal market commissioner Thierry Breton as saying this is too few, and the collective security of all member states was being put at risk.

But it is unlikely that a change in rules to enforce a ban will come any time soon, as there is insufficient time for legislation to be passed before the term of the current European Commission ends in 2024.

We asked the European Commission if a mandatory ban on suppliers such as Huawei was being considered but it didn't immediately respond.

Perhaps ironically, Thierry Breton is also reported to have warned that Europe is falling behind other regions in its deployment of next-gen networks. According to Reuters he claimed that 5G population coverage is 95 percent in the US but 72 percent in the EU, and that adjusted for GDP, 5G investment in the EU is lower than in other regions of the world.

Much of the security concern about potential interference in telecoms networks has centered on Huawei. The China-based company claims to have invested more than $600 million into 5G research between 2009 and 2013, then another $1.4 billion in product development that made it the front runner in 5G technology when operators set out to invest in it.

But some in western intelligence circles believe that Huawei is closely intertwined with the Chinese government, and that allowing its equipment into critical infrastructure is a threat to security. Under Chinese law, Article 7 of the National Intelligence law to be precise, all citizens and organizations may be required to act as secret tentacles of state security as Beijing deems necessary.

Huawei itself strongly denies being a stooge for the Chinese Communist Party, telling us: "Huawei equipment is routinely and closely scrutinized by governments and relevant security agencies according to stringent cybersecurity standards. No evidence has ever been provided to show Huawei's equipment has backdoors."

The company also said it opposes politicizing cybersecurity issues. "Assessing cybersecurity risks without sticking to recognised technological standards, or excluding specific suppliers from the system without proper technological evaluation, is a violation of the principles of fairness and non-discrimination," it said in a statement.

Huawei has been slapped hard by US-led sanctions against the company, which hit it in the pocket, with profits dropping by 46 percent in the first quarter of 2023 when compared with the end of last year.

Last week, the Malaysian government said it would not be following western nations in blocking telcos from using kit from Chinese suppliers such as Huawei in in its planned 5G network rollout. ®

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