Berlin, Dusseldorf The PR strategists of Deutsche Telekom are doing their utmost these days, cheering a “bang on mobile” and a “turbo for high speed”. The reason: In Germany, the group has started the next step in the expansion of 5G real-time mobile radio. The head of Deutsche Telekom in Germany, Dirk Wössner, announced: “We want to supply 5G with more than half of the population by the end of the year.”
Vodafone had recently increased the pressure on Telekom. Germany boss Hannes Ametsreiter promised to make 5G available to ten million people in Germany later this year. So far, the company has focused on the future technology on a few major cities, he said: “Now we are bringing 5G to the area.”
The ambitious expansion plans of the telecommunications companies rely, among other things, on the technology of a highly controversial company: Huawei. The Chinese world market leader supplies components and software upgrades that Telekom and Vodafone use to modernize their networks. That alarms the Huawei critics in the Bundestag. “The network operators do not wait, but create facts quickly,” said Norbert Röttgen, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and candidate for the CDU party chair, the Handelsblatt.
The lesson to be learned over the past few weeks is “that critical infrastructure should not make us dependent on countries like China. What applies to masks should definitely be the case with a view to our digital nervous system. ”
Quarrel for more than a year
There is also fierce resistance against Huawei in the SPD-led Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has grown in the corona crisis. “Corona has made one thing very clear: if we want to emerge stronger from this crisis, we can only succeed if we can coordinate closely in Europe in the future, act together and rely on our own capabilities,” said Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas the Handelsblatt. “Especially when it comes to critical infrastructure and future technologies, we must not depend on others.” That limits “our ability to act” and undermines “the sovereignty of Europe”.
The grand coalition has been arguing for more than a year about whether it wants to allow Huawei for the 5G expansion. Economics Minister Peter Altmaier, Chancellor Angela Merkel (both CDU) and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (CSU) made it clear that they do not want to exclude any providers from the outset. The Federal Foreign Office and the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) argue, however, that Chinese technology companies cannot be trusted.
After all, they are subject to the security laws of the People’s Republic and could be forced to pass data on to the regime. Huawei technology could thus serve the Communist Party as a vehicle for espionage and sabotage.
The discussion about Huawei is so fierce because 5G technology is ushering in the next phase of digitization and is to help future dreams like telemedicine, self-driving cars, automated factories and intelligent power grids break through with real-time connections. Because of the importance of 5G, the U.S. government has launched a campaign against Huawei. It warns allied countries against becoming dependent on Chinese technology.
So far, the Europeans have not found a uniform strategy for dealing with Huawei. However, the EU Commission recommends “to exclude dependencies on providers who are considered to be at high risk”. This wording is coined on Huawei.
Huawei with a technological lead
The UK government has classified the company as a high-risk supplier. In addition to security policy arguments, Huawei opponents also raise industrial policy points: Unlike the United States, Europe has two of its own 5G providers, the Scandinavian companies Ericsson and Nokia, and this technological expertise must be retained.
But Huawei is very popular with European network operators. The group is considered a technological leader and its components are cheap. While Vodafone has never made any bones about relying on Huawei, things are more complicated at Telekom. The Bonn-based company knows about the dispute in Berlin and announced in December: “Given the unclear political situation, we are currently not entering into any 5G contracts with any manufacturer.”
Nevertheless, Telekom will work with Huawei on the upcoming 5G expansion, as the Handelsblatt learned from corporate circles. On the one hand, equipment from Huawei is being installed for new 5G antennas. On the other hand, Telekom is upgrading older antennas with software updates for 5G. Today, more than half of the telecommunications network in Germany is operated with Huawei technology.
This step could also cement this market share for the 5G era. As a departure from the statement from last year, Telekom does not want its new initiative to be understood. A spokeswoman said: “It is a modernization of existing technology. And, as is well known, it mainly consists of Ericsson and Huawei. “There would be no new network, but existing networks would be equipped.
The statement made by Telekom in December was interpreted completely differently in Berlin. Politicians from the CDU and SPD understood it that at least Telekom would not create a fait accompli until a political decision has been made to use Huawei. However, Deutsche Telekom left a back door open in its presentation.
A group insider says: “We have framework contracts with our most important suppliers.” It is therefore not necessary to conclude new contracts for the 5G expansion. The ordering of new technology can be initiated via purchase orders.
Telekom can make use of this. The rapid expansion of 5G in Germany is partly due to a technological innovation. Telekom and Vodafone rely on Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS): The technology enables multiple mobile radio standards to be used in one frequency band. This means that 5G or 4G can be made available as required. This makes network expansion faster and cheaper – especially because older antennas can also be made fit for 5G using software updates.
The innovation is offered by Huawei and the Swedish rival Ericsson, but also by other suppliers. If Telekom buys new technology, it does not have to specifically choose 5G, but can choose a solution that covers 5G and 4G at the same time and in many cases use older hardware. Huawei did not want to comment on contracts with customers on request.
Politics demand clarity
Nevertheless, network operators are now taking a high risk: If the federal government ultimately decides to exclude Huawei, they would have to remove components again. “We are in a dramatic situation,” warns Falko Mohrs, SPD group rapporteur for 5G. “A lot of time has been lost due to the timing of Altmaier, Seehofer and Merkel.”
The network operators finally need clarity. On March 11, Mohrs, on behalf of the SPD parliamentary group, complained to Chancellor Minister Helge Braun about the “very slow development” of 5G legislation. The letter is available to the Handelsblatt. An answer is still pending.
Two laws are intended to regulate the security of the 5G network: the revised Telecommunications Act (TKG) and the so-called BSI Act. Actually, the TKG amendment should have been available long ago, the government vote is now to begin in May or June. Above all, technical security criteria are to be laid down in it.
In the new version of the BSI law, which the Ministry of the Interior is drawing up, a trustworthiness check is included, a concession to the Huawei critics. However, the Chancellery insists that the examination be carried out according to “objectifiable criteria”, ie that it does not contain any formulations that specifically target Chinese suppliers. In addition, a crucial point is still unclear: who decides on trustworthiness. The SPD wants to prevent Seehofer and Altmaier from making the decision between themselves – and wave through Huawei.
If the Union ministries stick to their stance, disputes will shift to the Bundestag, which has to pass the laws. In parliament, Merkel, Altmaier and Seehofer not only have the SPD against them, but also Röttgen and his allies in the CDU. SPD foreign policy politician Christoph Matschie warns: “If we do not ensure technological independence and the highest security standards now, the Chancellor is taking a high risk for Germany.”
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