Excluding Huawei will hurt 5G, China envoy warns EU

28 Jan 2019

Image: © viperagp/Stock.adobe.com

The future of 5G is hanging in the balance.

Excluding Huawei could hurt 5G network development, China’s envoy to the EU, ambassador Zhang Ming, has warned.

Ming said that efforts to limit the involvement of Chinese technology in upcoming 5G projects in Europe might bring “serious consequences” to global economic and scientific co-operation. He made the warning in an interview with the Financial Times.

Western governments, led by the US, have barred the use of the Chinese company’s networks over concerns the technology could be used for spying. For its part, Huawei has denied the claims, declaring that network security has always been its priority.

In Rome on Friday (25 January), China’s foreign minister Wang Yi described the actions of western governments against Huawei as “unfair” and “immoral”.

“Considering the obvious political intentions and manipulation behind it, it is even more unacceptable,” he said. “I believe that all countries should be vigilant and resist this unreasonable practice, and such bullying.”

Hype or concerns grounded in reality?

It is debatable whether the hysteria surrounding Huawei is backed up by any actual hard evidence of spying, or if it is based mainly on a question of ideology and suspicions around the requirement of absolute loyalty from all Chinese enterprises to the state by China’s ruling Community Party.

It is also possibly an indication that the balance of power of innovation in areas like 5G are shifting from their traditional threshold of Silicon Valley to Shenzhen, and the US is worried and outraged.

Nevertheless, what began as a Five Eyes (intelligence communities of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, UK and US) suspicion about Chinese telecoms companies such as Huawei and ZTE around the awarding of network contracts in Australia has blown up into an international frenzy.

The frenzy comes just as a trade war has sparked between the US and China and matters have not been helped by the arrest in Canada of Huawei’s CFO Meng Wanzhou, one of China’s most high-profile businesswomen and daughter of founder Ren Zhengfei, over the alleged breach of US-imposed bans on dealing with Iran.

In July, UK authorities released a report detailing Huawei security risks and, in December, BT announced that it is to strip Huawei equipment from its core 4G network.

The Chinese tech giant’s ambitions to dominate in mobile have seen it soar to the number two phone vendor in the world, behind Samsung and ahead of Apple, helped along by technologically impressive devices such as the Mate 20 Pro and the P20 Pro.

As networks around Europe follow BT’s lead (Vodafone, in recent days, suspended installation of Huawei kit in its European core networks) there has been no evidence of Irish operators following suit.

Huawei is an investor in Ireland with substantial R&D operations in Dublin, Athlone and Cork. If you look at every modem in every household and business in Ireland, most of them are made by Huawei.

In 2017, Huawei signed a fibre infrastructure deal with Siro worth €25m. A €150m 4G network expansion recently announced by Eir will use radio access network equipment provided by the Chinese telecoms giant.

Reports at the weekend indicate that Siro – a joint venture between Vodafone and ESB – is planning to stick to its partnership with Huawei which will see the roll-out of fibre to 50 regional towns.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years