Today the EU announced guidelines that its 28 member countries (27 next month) can restrict or ban high-risk 5G vendors from core parts of their telecoms networks, and are advised to use multiple suppliers, echoing a similar announcement by the UK yesterday.
While the recommendations are non-binding, countries have been given until April to implement the guidelines and report on their progress by June. The guidelines do not identify any particular country or company, but they are also believed to focus on China’s Huawei and and ZTE.
It is the first time that China has so clearly and significantly gained a technological lead over the West, and the US in particular, with one US commentator saying that China has won this battle in the economic war, and that it is a failing of the US to have fallen behind in this important technology. The US had threatened to end intelligence sharing with the UK if it allowed Huawei to play a part in its 5G rollout, and the US response to having its ‘recommendations’ ignored was to suggest the UK had extricated itself from the EU just to give up data sovereignty to China.
EU industry chief Thierry Breton said in a statement quoted by Reuters: “Today we are equipping EU member states, telecoms operators and users with the tools to build and protect a European infrastructure with the highest security standards so we all fully benefit from the potential that 5G has to offer.”
The Commission is reported to have said it is ready to use trade defence tools against dumping or foreign subsidies to aid the EU’s 5G cyber-security.
Actions include certification requirements, diversification of suppliers and controls on businesses deemed high-risk.
In October 2019 non-EU businesses bidding to build 5G systems were told they could be “subject to interference” when they have strong links to their country’s government, were vulnerable to official pressure, or worked under laws that lacked “democratic checks and balances”.
The FT newspaper reports ETNO, Europe’s telecoms trade body, saying that 20 5G networks were launched in the EU last year with a further 80 expected by the end of 2020, with many test and commercial networks using Huawei equipment, with some member states such as Hungary playing down the idea that Huawei represents a risk.
In an earlier response to the UK announcement, Chris Burden, COO at Memset emailed SC to suggest that such ‘defensive’ legislation could be extended to other areas, saying, “Government departments continue to choose international hyperscalers like Azure and AWS (who dominate their markets) for their operations, but there is much to be said for working with UK SMEs that guarantee complete data sovereignty.
“Political implications have of course influenced today’s (28/1/20) outcome, but this decision does raise questions around whether market caps should now be applied to US-based hyperscalers, which would provide more space for the SME providers in the market.
“There is also the question of whether the commercial pricing of Huwaei’s service undercuts the current competitiveness in the UK, and whether the government intends on addressing this.
“It is likely smaller UK-based businesses are feeling isolated as a result of this decision. It is important the government shows support to SMEs operating in the space, in addition to large international companies. One way this can be done is by investing into UK tech companies (start-up or established) that provide similar services to Huawei and using this investment to encourage their growth.”
“The use of public cloud has become ubiquitous, meaning the geographical whereabouts of data has become far less clear-cut than it once was. In this changing geopolitical climate, with technology being used as bargaining chips in trade relationships and hyperscalers not committing to promise data sovereignty, the location of stored data is incredibly important.
“While the 5G network might not hold quite as much data as that stored by hyperscalers like AWS and Azure, there is the possibility ‘passive listening’ is conducted, meaning this data can be collected, packaged and sold on. Moreover, do we have full clarity on where any data managed by Huawei will be stored?”
Another aspect of the moves is to highlight China’s own protectionist approach to foreign tech, with Paul Bischoff, privacy advocate, Comparitech.com questioning Huawei opponents’ motives, but also noting to SC Media UK: “Given China's poor cyber-security and cyber espionage record, opponents of Huawei are right to be sceptical, but we should also be sceptical of the motives of its market competitors and the politicians they lobby.
"China has in some cases enforced protectionist policies that prevent Western tech companies from entering or competing in the Chinese market, so countries in the West might be looking to shore up their own telecom industries in kind. China also wants more of a say in how industry standards are developed, and aggressively expanding into Western markets gives it more of a voice in the future development of telecommunication technologies. In the end, it's difficult to tell whether Huawei critics are motivated by cyber-security or politics, but the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle."
It wasn’t just the Trump government that opposed Huawei involvement in the UK 5G network (and presumably EU’s 5G network too), with privacy campaigner Ray Walsh, digital privacy advocate at ProPrivacy emailing SC Media UK to say: “While the decision to allow Huawei to have a 35 percent stake in rolling out 5G is being touted as a fair and reasonable compromise by the government, the reality is that close attention needs to be paid to where these safe peripheral implementation for the technology are. Any mistakes made early on could leave the Chinese sitting inside the UK’s brand-new networks, potentially giving the Chinese surveillance capabilities that the UK doesn't fully comprehend until much further down the line.
“The UK government needs to provide evidence about why it believes it is safe to utilise Huawei’s technology, so that any components that are included in the networks are genuine of no risk. Without real evidence about where that technology can be used without putting consumers at risk, questions are going to remain over the logic of permitting Huawei into the ecosystem.”
In neighbouring Canada, the Toronto Sun newspaper suggests that Canada too could well unite against unfettered access by Huawei, and it is likely that other countries around the world will be following developments closely.
Among strategic European developments of alternative 5G supply, the European Space Agency (ESA) and CGI have just announced development of Carnot-Sat for Integrated Radio Planning of heterogeneous terrestrial/ satellite networks, intended to enable network operators to quickly and efficiently design and optimise 5G networks with the use of satellites.
‘‘Space for 5G is a matter of strategic importance for the European Space Agency’’ says Georgios Ziaragkas, technical officer for the Carnot-SAT activity as it works within the ARTES Core Competitiveness programme for satellite integration into 5G networks.
Shaun Stretton, vice president of satellite communications and space data platforms at CGI in the UK said: “....one of the initial challenges is efficiently rolling out networks; whilst there are many locations both in the UK and globally that don’t have sufficient access to terrestrial connectivity in order to support 100 percent 5G coverage. Utilising the global connectivity capabilities available from space in an efficient and integrated manner is the solution, and Carnot-Sat will provide 5G planners with the tool-set they require to achieve it.”
Catherine Mealing-Jones, director of growth at the UK Space Agency, adds: “The UK is a leading investor in ESA telecommunications research, and recently committed an additional £250 million to support projects led by innovative companies like CGI.This programme will help people and communities across the whole country to access the next generation of digital services and grow the UK’s thriving space sector and the wider economy.”