EU toolbox allows Huawei to play a role in EU 5G rollout

EU toolbox allows Huawei to play a role in EU 5G rollout

On the 29th January 2020, the European Commission introduced the joint toolbox, encompassing mitigating measures agreed by EU Member States, in order to tackle the security risks associated with 5G, the fifth generation of mobile networks. The EU toolbox gives the green light to so-called high-risk vendors, such as Huawei, albeit restricting their use (https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_123) (https://www.cnet.com/news/europe-allows-huawei-for-5g-through-security-guidelines/).

The EU took note on the security risks raised by the US by excluding the so-called high-risk vendors from the sensitive “core” of a network, where customer information is processed, but left the door open for China and Huawei to play a significant role in the “non-core” periphery, without placing any limits as in the UK’s case, mentioned below (https://www.ft.com/content/ee3f0764-41fc-11ea-bdb5-169ba7be433d?desktop=true)

The UK government, on the 28th January 2020, approved the limited use of Huawei technology in the UK’s 5G telecoms networks. The UK National Security Council gave the go-ahead to Huawei but has limited the Chinese company to a market share of 35 per cent (unlike the EU’s toolbox which does not place any limits) and will exclude its equipment from the sensitive network “core” (https://www.ft.com/content/e3d38d0e-41c5-11ea-a047-eae9bd51ceba?desktop=true).

The twin announcements, in Brussels and London, represent a victory for the Chinese tech giant, which has launched a charm offensive in Europe after it was practically banned from doing business in the United States (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/29/world/europe/eu-huawei-5g.html).

Huawei is widely viewed as providing the most advanced alternative for super-fast data transfers, behind technologies such as self-driving cars and remotely operated factory robots, as well as having cheaper equipment (https://www.france24.com/en/20200128-uk-grants-china-huawei-limited-role-building-nation-s-5g-network-telecoms-european-union-washington-britain).

The significant role that Huawei plays in the EU 5G roll out is explicitly depicted by the fact that Vodafone Group Plc, on the 5th February 2020, warned of “hugely disruptive” costs, of circa EUR 200 million, and delays to European phone network upgrades, of as long as five years, if other countries follow the UK and cap the market share of Huawei (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-02-05/vodafone-warns-of-5g-delays-if-huawei-s-share-capped-beyond-u-k).

The objectives of the EU toolbox is to create a possible harmonious set of measures and to create a robust framework of measures in the EU and coordinated approaches among Member States (https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/news/cybersecurity-5g-networks-eu-toolbox-risk-mitigating-measures).

The toolbox or recommendations leave each of the EU Member States with the ultimate responsibility for devising their own specific security measures and will have the final word on whether and how they want to let Huawei help build their next generation of wireless telecommunications networks (https://www.ft.com/content/ee3f0764-41fc-11ea-bdb5-169ba7be433d?desktop=true).

Within the toolbox conclusions, Member States agreed to strengthen security requirements, to assess the risk profiles of suppliers, to apply relevant restrictions for suppliers considered to be high risk including necessary exclusions for key assets considered as critical and sensitive (such as the core network functions), and to have strategies in place to ensure the diversification of vendors – hence, a multi-vendor strategy to avoid or limit any major dependency on a single supplier (https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_123).

The Member States, acting through the NIS Cooperation Group, have adopted the toolbox which addresses all risks identified in the EU coordinated assessment, including risks in connection to non-technical factors, such as the risk of interference from non-EU state or state-backed actors through the 5G supply chain (https://ec.europa.eu/newsroom/dae/document.cfm?doc_id=64468).

The EU Commission calls on Member States to implement the set of measures recommended in the toolbox conclusions, by the 30th April 2020 and to prepare a joint report on the implementation in each Member State, by the 30th June 2020 (https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_123).

On a final note, Huawei stated on the 4th February 2020, that it intends to set up manufacturing hubs in Europe, in order to “truly have 5G for Europe made in Europe”, as it attempts to fight off US pressure on EU nations to stop it from operating (https://www.euractiv.com/section/5g/news/huawei-promises-made-in-europe-5g-for-eu/?utm_source=EURACTIV&utm_campaign=3acb79b936-RSS_EMAIL_EN_Daily_Update&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c59e2fd7a9-3acb79b936-114953471).