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5G networks

German regulator says Huawei can stay in 5G race

Agency defies US call for ban on Chinese group provided it abides by data secrecy rules

BERLIN (Financial Times) -- Germany’s telecoms regulator has given the clearest signal yet that equipment maker Huawei will not be excluded from the buildout of the country’s superfast 5G network, despite fierce pressure from the US to shut out the controversial Chinese supplier for security reasons.

Jochen Homann, the president of the Bundesnetzagentur, or federal network agency, told the Financial Times in an interview: “The position the Bundesnetzagentur takes is that no equipment supplier, including Huawei, should, or may, be specifically excluded.”

Washington has repeatedly urged European governments to ban Huawei infrastructure from their 5G networks, arguing that Beijing could use the Chinese group’s technology to conduct espionage or cyber sabotage. Last month, the US ambassador to Berlin warned the German government in a letter that Washington would consider scaling back intelligence co-operation should Huawei be given a role in the 5G roll-out.

The Chinese group has denied US claims that its technology poses a security risk, but some American allies — including Australia and New Zealand — have decided to follow the guidance from Washington and bar Huawei from parts of their telecoms infrastructure.

Mr Homann, however, said his agency had yet to see evidence to back up such concerns: “The Bundesnetzagentur has not received any concrete indications against Huawei. Nor are we aware of any other body in Germany that has received any reliable indications.”

The Bundesnetzagentur launched its keenly-awaited auction of 5G spectrum last month, with bidding continuing on Friday after more than three weeks and 180 rounds. The four operators competing for licences to operate 5G networks — Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, Telefónica and Drillisch — have so far tabled bids totalling more than €5.2bn. Once the auction is over, the companies can start building the required infrastructure for the fifth generation network, with Huawei expected to play a key role.

Mr Homann pointed out that banning Huawei from the process would cause problems for Deutsche Telekom and its rivals: “The operators all work with Huawei technology in their systems, anyway. Plus, Huawei holds a large number of patents in this area. If Huawei were excluded from the market, this would delay the roll-out of the digital networks,” he said.

In an attempt to counter the concerns of the US and others, Mr Homann’s agency released a draft of new security guidelines last month. The new rule book, which is still under consultation with industry and other government branches, says that equipment can be bought only from trustworthy vendors “which unequivocally abide by national safety regulations, as well as provisions in the secrecy of telecommunications.”

Mr Homann said: “If Huawei meets all the requirements, it can take part in the 5G network roll-out.” He pointed out operators had to “take special care when selecting system suppliers” and that “security-related components may only be used if they have undergone IT security checks by an approved testing body and have been certified by the Federal Office for Information Security, the BSI”.

But Mr Homann insisted that “there will be no requirements on the part of the Bundesnetzagentur that are aimed at a particular company.”

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