Spotlight on 5G. A Strand Consult report detailing the share of Chinese vendors across Europe’s next-gen infrastructure has been making the rounds. Several countries, led by the United States, have been striving to reduce or restrict ‘untrustworthy’ providers – namely, China’s Huawei and ZTE – for national security reasons, as they might provide valuable to Beijing’s espionage or disruptive activities.
- Nevertheless, Chinese 5G tech is still ubiquitous in the Old Continent. Germany, for instance, relies on Huawei for 59% of the Radio Access Network section of the infrastructure.
- RAN differs from the so-called “core” section as it’s more peripheral, but its distinction from the core network is blurring as more operations move to the cloud.
- Therefore, reads the report, Germany has not taken the security threat posed by China seriously; its strategic exposure to Beijing (and its implications) recalls its dependence on Russian gas.
It’s endemic. The 5G RAN section in seven other EU countries – including Italy – is built with over 50% of Chinese tech, the report points out. Austria, Germany, Italy and Poland comprise half of European mobile customers and “are heavily dependent on Chinese equipment, creating risk for their own nations and others which use their networks.”
- Only 11 out of 31 European countries can offer their users access to clean, non-Chinese networks.
- When compared to 4G, the overall European share of 5G Chinese RAN equipment has been declining. However, that does not reflect all countries (Cyprus, for instance, relies solely on Chinese 5G vendors).
The security risks. Furthermore, 5G tech is still being rolled out. And as it underlines the future of connectivity – connected devices, internet of things, shift to always-connected cloud computing – this kind of equipment comes with increased risks that go beyond snooping.
- Given its control over national companies, China could potentially order them to switch off a country’s network and block its functioning, as an Australian intelligence operative told The Sydney Morning Herald’s Peter Hartcher.
- Given the future pervasiveness of 5G networks, such an operation could effectively interrupt essential services – clean water and sewage, electricity grids – and even public transport and self-driving cars.
The Italian plans. In late 2019, Parliament’s Intelligence Committee called on the Italian government to ban Chinese providers from 5G network infrastructure. Over the past years, lawmakers have ruled out all-out bans and opted for a mix of measures – including the strengthening of the State’s special powers and a tech certification system through the National Cybersecurity Agency, called upon to assess the security and reliability of equipment provided to subjects essential to the State.
How Tim is going about it. The Italian telco behemoth, partly owned by State lender CDP, confirmed its commitment to phase out made-in-China equipment from its network infrastructure. Its annual plan (approved by Mario Draghi’s government shortly before its end) entails 100% usage of tech from Sweden’s Ericsson for the 5G core section and Italy’s Athonet to deploy dedicated private networks.
- As for the RAN section of its infrastructure, Ericsson currently stands at 53%, Finland’s Nokia at 27% and Huawei at 20%. However, the company has already begun to root out Huawei equipment from its network and replace it with Ericsson and Nokia tech – 70% and 30%, respectively.