Hamburg, Brussels Chinese mobile phone technology is considered the world leader. Huawei in particular has asserted itself against the competition from Europe and the USA; no other outfitter has a similarly high market share.
German mobile communications providers such as Deutsche Telekom have also primarily relied on Chinese components when expanding their 5G networks – despite security concerns and increasing pressure from Western allies. The control options of the government and authorities were expanded in 2021, but the use of Chinese technology was not prohibited.
Is the federal government doing the right thing? Or is the traffic light making a fool of itself? A pro & con of the Handelsblatt editorial team.
In the Huawei debate, the German telecommunications companies behaved like the three Japanese monkeys covering their ears, eyes and mouth. All warnings about becoming dangerously dependent were ignored, and the technology partnership with Huawei was stubbornly pursued: hear nothing, see nothing, say nothing.
The federal government could no longer stand by and watch this inexperienced activity – and has now spread plans to ban Huawei components in the coming months. The step will incur considerable costs and will confuse expansion plans for real-time 5G mobile communications. But it is inevitable.
Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone and Telefónica have impressively demonstrated that they are not willing to invest in the effective protection of critical infrastructure. The state has to force them to do this. Better late than never.
Since February 24, 2022, the day of the Russian attack on Ukraine, it should have been clear that Germany cannot continue as before. The decision to place parts of the energy infrastructure in Russian hands was a foolish mistake. The foreign policy, but also the economic damage is enormous.
Hardly any other company has operated the natural gas brotherhood with Moscow as intensively as Uniper – now the group is nationalized. Mobile network operators and their shareholders would be wise to study the case closely.
The risk posed by Chinese technology in German networks is real. This makes the Federal Republic open to blackmail. Should China deliver arms to Russia, as the US fears, will the EU react with sanctions – and Beijing with disrupting the German networks? The sheer possibility shows why the government must act.
It was foreseeable for a long time that the Huawei debate would result in severe restrictions. But instead of switching to trusted providers like Ericsson and Nokia, network operators put their energies into lobbying for Huawei. The blindness to geopolitical connections is now costing them dearly.
Cons: The government is doing a lot of damage with its ambivalent attitude
When it comes to the use of Chinese mobile communications technology, most German politicians duck their heads. If they express themselves at all, then as a rule they are suppressed or behind closed doors.
This week was ducked again. The federal government now wants to ban Chinese manufacturers from the “critical” parts of the German mobile phone networks. For “safety” reasons, as they say.
But instead of making a clear commitment, the Federal Ministry of the Interior meekly announces an examination, the result of which is already indirectly anticipated. This is not the way to create trust and planning security.
It remains unclear by when the components have to be removed or which ones are specifically meant. In the industry, even Chinese competitors are amazed at the clumsiness and obvious ignorance of German officials. Supposedly one has only now understood how much Chinese technology is in the German networks.
Interior Minister Nancy Faeser is silent. Your problem: The allegations by Western secret services against the market leader Huawei have never been specifically proven. Even federal authorities consider the Chinese technology to be harmless.
Huawei is already very popular with network operators because both the products and the service are first-class. So it was no wonder that they continued to rely on the high-tech components from Shenzhen even after the ban on former US President Donald Trump. Especially since at the time they were under pressure from the government and the public to close dead spots more quickly. So Telekom and Co. only behaved rationally if they continued to install Huawei alongside Nokia and Ericsson when setting up their 5G networks. Diversification made sense.
The federal government had not given a clear line. As the largest shareholder in Deutsche Telekom, she could have had a direct influence. But the chancellor’s office under Angela Merkel didn’t want to upset either the Americans or the Chinese.
Until Monday, the traffic lights showed no real change of heart. A dependency has arisen in the decision-making vacuum, the price of which will only be revealed bit by bit. The government is primarily responsible for this. It is still unclear whether she really saw her mistakes.
Philip Alvares de Souza Soares
More: How the telecom industry ripped off the federal government