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The move is not due to the threat of espionage, but rather to avoid “dependency”

Following a trend set by the US and UK, the German government is now also planning to forbid telecoms operators from using certain components from Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE in their 5G networks, according to the German news outlet Zeit Online.

Citing “government sources”, the article says the ban would also affect components that have already been installed by the providers, a move that would force the telcos to pay to retool.

A critical part of the 5G build-out

Chinese manufacturer Huawei is an important supplier for 5G equipment such as antennas and other communications structures, which are a critical part of the extensive – and expensive – broadband rollout that is taking place all over Europe as part of the EU’s 5G Action Plan and the so-called Digital Decade that the bloc seeks to realise by 2030.

In fact, providers such as Deutsche Telekom have already widely deployed components from Huawei in their 5G networks.

No proof of espionage

The Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) and the Federal Ministry of the Interior are concerned that suppliers from countries such as China are controlled by their governments and that they could have direct or indirect access to German mobile networks via Chinese equipment. Their investigations, however, have this far failed to find any existing “backdoor” or other threat, according to Die Zeit.

Does dependency on Chinese products pose a threat?

Nonetheless, there has been growing concern in Germany – as well as in the US – that important parts of a nation’s so-called critical infrastructure could become dependent on foreign products. These concerns were most recently manifested by the US having accused Russia of “weaponising” Europe’s – and especially Germany’s – dependency on Russian energy exports.

This announcement is seen as a further proof that Germany’s coalition government is eager to fully accommodate US security concerns.

Under German law, if the authorities like BSI perceive that a security threat could arise through the use of certain components, those products can be prohibited. This is what the government seems set to do with Huawei and ZTE.

When asked to comment, Deutsche Telekom replied that it was not involved in “political speculation”. They also confirmed that critical components are used only “after their own examination and examination and permission or non-prohibition by the BSI”.