Tech

The EU says security is not the only concern when it comes to 5G

Key Points
  • In the case of Huawei, there are specific concerns about its links to the Chinese government.
  • Huawei has rebuffed those concerns, saying it is independent of the Chinese state.
  • In Germany, the debate over 5G has intensified in recent weeks.

Aside from security risks, European governments should consider the wider consequences of handing out contracts to 5G suppliers, according to an EU document seen by CNBC and one which could have repercussions for the Chinese firm, Huawei, that is under scrutiny as a potential 5G supplier.

"In addition to the technical risks related to cybersecurity of 5G networks, also non-technical factors such as the legal and policy framework to which suppliers may be subject to in third countries, should be considered," a draft document prepared ahead of a meeting of European ministers and seen by CNBC said.

5G is the next generation of mobile internet technology, designed to deliver super-fast data speeds. However, the debate over the providers of 5G technology has become politicized, with officials in the U.S. and U.K., among other countries, expressing concerns that suppliers like Huawei could pose a security threat.

In the case of Huawei, there are specific concerns about its links to the Chinese government. Huawei has rebuffed those concerns, saying it is independent of the Chinese state and would not allow its technology to be used for any state surveillance, as some experts have suggested could happen.

The same EU document highlighted that European countries should "consider the need to diversify suppliers in order to avoid or limit the creation of a major dependency on a single supplier."

The draft document, which is set to be agreed on during the first week of December at a meeting of EU ministers, comes as the EU lays the foundations for the implementation of 5G over time.

VIDEO5:0305:03
What is 5G?

The European Commission – the EU's executive arm – released a report last month assessing the risks of 5G. The report said that the roll-out of 5G networks is expected to "increase the exposure to attacks and more potential entry points for attackers."

It also said that "the risk profile of individual suppliers will become particularly important, including the likelihood of the supplier being subject to interference from a non-EU country."

A spokesperson for the European Commission, told CNBC via email last week, that the "report deliberately does not contain any references - explicit or implicit - to individual countries or suppliers."

"It follows an objective approach and identifies a number of strategic risks, which will help define appropriate mitigation measures," the spokesperson also said.

German rebellion over 5G

In Germany, the debate over 5G has intensified in recent weeks. Chancellor Angela Merkel decided not to stop Huawei from potentially supplying Germany's 5G networks. She said that all telecom providers will be allowed to participate in the roll-out of 5G in Germany provided they meet specific and tight security standards.

However, the German parliament as well as some senior government officials have criticized Merkel's decision.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said earlier this month that Huawei is obliged to pass on information to the Chinese government and, as a result, he raised doubts as to whether the firm should be allowed to work in Germany.

However, all German telecom providers use Huawei equipment and have warned that banning Huawei would postpone the roll-out of 5G as well as cost billions of euros, the BBC reported.

VIDEO3:4503:45
Huawei CEO: Considering licensing the company's 5G tech exclusively to a US firm to use