Germany is launching its Tuesday auction to build an ultra – fast 5 G mobile network as a transatlantic dispute rages over security concerns surrounding giant Chinese telecommunications equipment manufacturer Huawei.
The United States has threatened to end intelligence sharing with Berlin if it does not exclude Huawei’s hardware from the infrastructure, arguing that Chinese equipment could help Western companies and governments spy on Beijing.
In an attempt to play down the row on Monday, Jochen Homann, chairman of the German Federal Network Agency (BNA), said: “Whether a supplier comes from Sweden or China, businesses must meet the requirements for certification and security.”
‘5G’ — ‘fifth generation’ — is the latest high-speed mobile communications generation and Berlin will require winning bidders to provide 5G service to at least 98% of German households, motorways and railways.
Germany, the largest economy in Europe whose wireless networks are ranked 46th in the world for download speeds, wants to close the huge digital gap by shifting to the ultra – fast 5 G system.
The BNA starts the auction in Mainz on Tuesday at 0900 GMT and 41 different frequency blocks will be allocated to the process.
Four operators are in operation, including the three main mobile network providers from Germany – Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone and Telefonica Germany (O2) – plus United Internet (1&1), a German Internet services company.
Chinese company Huawei is not one of the bidders, but provides essential hardware such as antennas and routers to the four German companies.
The US accused Beijing of using the 5 G network gear of Huawei as a Trojan horse forcing operators to transmit data to the regime, but Washington did not provide evidence to support their suspicions.
Huawei has severely denied allegations that his equipment might be used for spying.
On Monday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi laughed at what he called “abnormal, immoral” attacks on Huawei and demanded a “fair and just environment of competition” for Chinese firms.
Attempts by the US to encourage other nations to ban Huawei equipment from their telecommunications infrastructure suffered a setback when the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel decided not to impose specific company restrictions on the 5 G auction.
– US fears of security compromise –
Richard Grenell, US ambassador to Germany, warned last week that Washington would be able to stifle intelligence cooperation unless Berlin agreed to a Huawei ban.
In a letter, Grenell told Peter Altmaier, Germany’s economic minister, that if Berlin allows the Chinese company to be part of the 5 G network, cooperation in intelligence – sharing could stop.
The threat escalated last week when US General Curtis Scaparrotti, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, warned Germany that if Berlin works with Huawei, NATO forces would cut communications.
“We are concerned that their (Germany) telecommunications backbone is compromised in the sense that the ability and ability to pull data is incredible, especially with 5 G,” Scaparrotti told the House Armed Services Committee last Wednesday.
“If it’s within their communications on defense as well, then we won’t communicate with them.
“And this would be a problem for the military.”
In Washington, Merkel tried to reassure senior figures by saying that Germany would consult with the US on whether to use Huawei tech, but would “define our standards for ourselves.”
However, some of the US fears are shared by Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service (BND).
According to a report in Der Spiegel magazine, BND security experts asked the government to take into account the overall strategy of China, including a law on forced cooperation in security matters.
Other media outlets argue that Berlin is developing a catalog of measures to change the telecommunications laws for all 5 G providers.
These measures range from a non – espionage clause to testing all components and publishing source code used in infrastructure.
In some cases, the government could insist on the replacement of equipment already installed that could exclude Huawei from the infrastructure without issuing a formal ban on the Chinese company, according to the daily business Handelsblatt.