Zeit Online: Germany planning to ban Huawei, ZTE from parts of 5G networks

GERMANY. The federal government plans to use mobile operators prohibit certain controls from Chinese manufacturers Huawei and to install ZTE in their 5-G networks. ZEIT ONLINE learned this from government circles. This ban should also affect components that are from the providers have already been installed. That would force companies to convert.

For months, the Federal Office for Information Security ( BSI ) and the Federal Ministry of the Interior have been checking whether there are components in the systems of the currently growing 5-G network, that could endanger German security. The authorities are concerned that suppliers from countries such as China are controlled by their governments and that they could have direct or indirect access to German mobile networks. This test is not yet officially completed, but the result is now evidently certain.

The German mobile operators have long since expanded the 5G standard in their networks and are building the necessary systems and antennas. The Chinese manufacturer Huawei is an important supplier for this. The group is one of the largest providers of telecommunications technology and is the world leader in the 5G standard. That is why, for example, Deutsche Telekom installed components from Huawei in its 5-G network.

For a long time now, however, there has been growing concern in Germany that important parts of the so-called critical infrastructure could become dependent on foreign products. Therefore, the powers of the BSI were expanded with the IT Security Act 2.0 and a new paragraph 9b is inserted in the BSI law. Since September 2021, technical components for critical IT infrastructures have to be approved by the BSI and the Ministry of the Interior before they can be used. If there is reason to fear that the use of the respective components could endanger public order or the security of the Federal Republic, their use can be prohibited.

The manufacturer Huawei is not mentioned in this paragraph, but was the trigger for these plans. Other countries, especially the USA and Great Britain, have long prohibited the use of Huawei components. Sanctions have also been imposed on ZTE in the United States.

No back doors found

The security authorities not only see the danger that back doors could be installed in the technology of such suppliers, which could give foreign secret services access to German communication channels. Rather, a foreign power could also exert political pressure on Germany by simultaneously switching off such components or no longer supplying spare parts, thus paralyzing the mobile network. The examination by the BSI and the Ministry of the Interior is therefore not only of a technical nature. Rather, it should also be politically assessed how strong a possible dependency is.

The government agencies have not given any specific technical information that back doors are hidden in Chinese components. But there is serious evidence that manufacturers like Huawei and ZTE are controlled by the Chinese government. These indications would have arisen in the test process, but also came from security authorities. From a political point of view, this is obviously sufficient to ban the corresponding components from the German market. One sees the danger that excessive one-sided dependencies would arise, it said.

Testing of the complete 5-G network planned

The ban should obviously not only refer to components from the current test process. In total, the mobile operators had submitted eight test methods with 100 different components. Six of these proceedings were completed without any problems and without complaint, it was said that two were still pending.

Apparently, this also involves components that have already been installed. Because the problem has been discussed politically for almost two years. However, the providers did not want to wait for years to expand their networks and are driving it forward. But that would make retrofitting necessary. According to the federal government, there should be transition periods for this.

In addition, the federal government apparently wants to expand the review process. According to paragraph 9b of the BSI law, only new components have to be checked before they are installed. According to reports, the German authorities now want to investigate the complete 5-G network – with all components that have long been installed in it. You need a complete view of all providers and the equipment of their 5-G networks, it said. You don’t have a complete picture of what was installed where. This complete test should last until summer. Then one would “enter the failure process”, ie determine whether and if so, which other parts should be prohibited.

The mobile phone companies concerned reacted cautiously to the federal government’s plans. Vodafone only said on request that the process should not be commented on. Telefónica wrote that all legal requirements were adhered to and all information about critical components was sent to the responsible authorities. Nothing can be said about the ongoing process. Deutsche Telekom replied that they were not “participating in political speculation”. In addition, critical components are set “after your own examination as well as testing and permission or. Non-prohibition by the BSI”.