This weekend, at the federal party conference of the CDU, which is part of a grand coalition government in Germany, an resolution was passed almost unanimously: Germany should not award contracts for the expansion of the 5G networks to companies that are not independent of possible state influence. At its core, this position once again primarily affects the technology giant Huawei, which has been a global leader in the provision of technological components for the expansion of mobile radio networks for some time. According to the will of the CDU, the question of awarding contracts is to be discussed in the next step in the German Bundestag and should finally lead to a law that regulates access to the German 5G technology market on the basis of clear criteria.
This is a clear signal since Germany estimated for a long time the possible influence of Chinese technology as rather uncritical and thus massively positioned itself against the policy of the USA. And it is also no secret that the already existing mobile radio networks (4G) in Germany are operated extensively with Chinese components. But the tables are starting to turn: One can only guess what influence the US trade war against China has on Germany’s new 5G policy. The latest announcements by network operators Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone to review the sensitive areas of their networks and to sort out Chinese technology as far as possible are in line with this. However, both operators reject a general ban on Chinese components.
Europe needs a digital strategy
In a television discussion on Sunday evening, leading German politicians stressed that only with the help of a European digital strategy could dependence on both Chinese suppliers and US suppliers be reduced in the long term. European manufacturers – above all the leading European mobile technology suppliers Nokia and Ericsson – are also relying heavily on proven components from China to manufacture their systems. Stronger control or even certification of software and hardware, which is to be used in German networks, does not seem to be a promising approach. Dieter Kempf, President of the Federation of German Industries (BDI), stressed in the TV discussion show “Anne Will” on Sunday that there are clear technological limits to the penetration of highly complex third-party components and software solutions. In plain language: Nobody can know exactly what Huawei and Co. are actually developing and installing and what they could theoretically do with it.
Thus, an originally technological discussion in Germany is increasingly turning into a political one: The participants in the talk show were also consistently critical of China’s understanding of the rule of law. A competition between political systems has been proclaimed which is not only reflected on the technology level.
It is therefore important to know how large the lead of non-European companies currently is and which measures can best support the strengthening of European 5G technology development. Otherwise, the fundamental question could arise, as to whether a 5G network provided predominantly by foreign technology can be benficial for the sense of security in Germany.