Mobile communications components, especially in the 5G network, from manufacturers in China could soon face the end of life in Germany as well. The Federal Ministry of the Interior wants to reassess the associated risks. Specifically, Huawei and ZTE are affected.
Rip and Replace: Is the Huawei ban coming?
As the German Federal Ministry of the Interior has revealed to Handelsblatt, it reserves the right to instruct network operators to remove and no longer use critical components “from untrusted manufacturers”. This even applies to equipment that is currently already in operation.
In the industry, this procedure is called rip and replace. It provides that the use of already installed components or technology that is currently in use can be prohibited and network operators are obliged to replace them.
Namely, “if the further use is likely to impair the public order or security of the Federal Republic of Germany, especially if the manufacturer of the critical component is not trustworthy”, the ministry is quoted as saying by Handelsblatt.
Specifically, Chinese manufacturers such as Huawei and ZTE, which were already affected in the U.S. in 2020 by the so-called, colloquial “Rip and Replace Act” (Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act) by the dismantling of all mobile technology, are particularly affected.
Manufacturer Huawei in particular has long been a thorn in the side of the USA. Thus one sees in the Chinese Tech company a “danger for the national security”. The expansion of all the manufacturer’s technology will cost the country significantly more than originally thought, however.
Mobile upgrade could be expensive
In Germany, expanding mobile technology from Chinese manufacturers would mean upgrading to European providers such as Ericsson and Nokia. But since all mobile operators, i.e. Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone and Telefónica Deutschland, use technology from Huawei and Co, the Rip and Replace Act is also likely to be expensive in this country.
But not only the costs would be enormous. The expansion of the fast 5G mobile network, which is still progressing on a large scale, would also be severely curbed and probably delayed.
Since components from the various manufacturers are not necessarily compatible with each other, a corresponding Huawei ban would mean a large-scale retooling. That is one of the reasons why the Interior Ministry is not allowed to decide this on its own. Coordination with the foreign and economic ministries would be necessary, according to reports.
In early July, the German Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) just launched a new type of certification program for 5G components for greater security. Here, in addition to Ericsson and Nokia, Huawei still played an important role.
FDP advises caution
When questioned by Handelsblatt, both Vodafone and Telefónica stated that they used mobile technology from different manufacturers. But only Vodafone specifically also named Huawei as a provider. Deutsche Telekom, on the other hand, did not comment.
Interestingly, however, Vodafone is currently working on its own network technology with Vodafone Open RAN, which means that the network operator is no longer necessarily tied to the use of radio stations from other providers such as Huawei, Ericsson and Nokia.
Konstantin Kuhle of the FDP, however, advises extreme caution in the case of Huawei, as he told the newspaper. “It would be unworldly and naive not to recognize the geopolitical significance of Huawei’s activities in Germany for China’s influence.”
Accordingly, he said, it was right and important for German authorities to re-examine the risks. One should as a country “not make themselves dependent on dictatorships”, Kuhle continued. He received approval from Konstantin von Notz of the Green Party, who assessed the situation similarly.
Especially against the backdrop of the Ukraine war and the associated blackmail of Russia by throttling gas supplies, the German government wants to reassess the risks posed by an economic dependence on dictatorships. This includes mobile communications technology from Huawei and ZTE, but no official decision has yet been made.
Huawei itself is not aware of a corresponding exclusion in Germany. They offer excellent security, as they say. However, the accusation that Huawei could use its technology for espionage by Chinese intelligence services has been hanging over the tech giant like a sword of Damocles for a long time. Although, of course, nothing of the sort has been confirmed so far.
In France, licenses with Huawei were already not renewed more than two years ago, slowly spinning off mobile technology from China. This szneario could, if the federal government decides in favor of it, also be carried out in this country – perhaps even much faster.