German ministers to discuss Huawei’s role in 5G network

Huawei faces international scrutiny over suspicion that Beijing could use its technology for spying. (AFP pic)

BERLIN: German ministers will meet on Wednesday to discuss how to safeguard security in future 5G mobile networks, two government sources said, amid intense debate over whether to shut China’s Huawei Technologies out of the market.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has said Germany needs guarantees that Huawei would not hand data to the Chinese state before it can take part in building fifth-generation networks that would link everything from vehicles to factories at far greater speeds.

The Handelsblatt daily cited government sources as saying the meeting would focus on whether a security catalogue, drafted by the federal network regulator (BNetzA) and cybersecurity watchdog (BSI), along with certification rules and a no-spy pact with China, would be enough to make 5G safe.

Huawei, the global networks market leader with annual sales exceeding US$100 billion, faces international scrutiny over its ties with the Chinese government and suspicion Beijing could use Huawei’s technology for spying, which the company denies.

A State Department official said on Tuesday that Washington sees the European Union as its top priority in a global effort to convince allies not to buy Huawei equipment for next-generation mobile networks over espionage concerns.

The German ministers’ session, to be held after the regular weekly cabinet meeting, and attended by the interior, economy, finance, and transport ministers, follows a first high-level meeting last week.

At that session, attended by Germany’s three network operators, market leader Deutsche Telekom proposed a series of technical and compliance measures to safeguard security.

These included setting up an independent laboratory, under BSI oversight, to scrutinise all equipment used in critical infrastructure before it is deployed in the field.

“The ministers will discuss 5G and Huawei, but there will be no final decisions made today,” one government source said, adding the BSI and BNetzA were in charge of dealing with the security requirements.

A source in the telecoms sector also said no decision was expected on Wednesday about whether to bar Huawei from Germany’s 5G auction, which is due to be held in the second half of March.

Sources say the different official stakeholders have yet to reach a unified position on what course of action to take. Nor do they agree on whether a decision is needed before the 5G auction is held, which would provide clarity to operators before they strike deals to upgrade their networks to ready them for the launch of 5G services.