The European Union told member states that they can use 5G equipment from high-risk vendors, such as Huawei, although there will have to be strict regulations in place to counter any potential national security threat. The Commission said that countries in the bloc should adopt a risk mitigating approach while using 5G equipment from high risk vendors. Endorsing a “5G toolbox,” it said that it was a “guidance in the selection and prioritisation of measures that should be part of national and EU risk mitigation plans”. This essentially means that the EU will not ban Huawei from developing 5G networks for member countries, but its participation will be restricted and regulated.

While EU did not specifically mention Huawei, it is the telecom vendor that has drawn severe criticism from the US, which has also been urging its allies from refraining to use Huawei’s products. However, it is worth mentioning that EU nations are in no way bound to follow the guidelines released by the Commission. “We can do great things with 5G,” said Margrethe Vestager, a top official of the European Commission, the European Union’s executive body. “But only if we can make our networks secure.”

What the guidelines entail

The 5G toolbox, gives countries in the bloc regulatory powers to scrutinise network procurement and deployment, specific measures to address risks related to non-technical vulnerabilities assess the risk profile of suppliers and promote initiatives to support the development of sustainable and diverse 5G suppliers. The Commission further said that member countries should:

  • Strengthen security requirements for mobile network operators: They should have strict access controls, rules on secure operation and monitoring, limitations on outsourcing of specific functions, etc.
  • Assess the risk profile of suppliers, and if necessary, exclude them from core network functions, network management and orchestration functions, and access network functions
  • Avoid dependency on a single supplier, by adopting a multi-vendor strategy. Member countries should also avoid any situations of “lock-in” with a single supplier, including by promoting greater interoperability of equipment.
  • Standardise networks and develop relevant EU-wide certification schemes to promote more secure products and processes.

Non pan-EU block despite US’ concerns

The US has been extremely wary of Huawei’s alleged close relationship with the Chinese government, and it sees the company as an espionage threat. It has been engaging with countries around the world, including India, urging them to not allow Huawei in their 5G network. When the UK decided to allow Huawei in its non-core 5G network, the country had urged it to think about its decision again. India has also allowed the telecom company to participate in the upcoming 5G trials, and Huawei has partnered with Airtel and Vodafone to participate in the trials. In December 2019, the country had warned India of the “risks” posed by Chinese-made networks, to the “treasured freedoms”. A few months before that, it had also written to the Ministry of External Affairs, “warning” India that Indian companies that supply American-origin products could face severe punishment.

In May 2019, the US Commerce Department had added Huawei and 70 affiliates to its ‘Entity List’, which prevented the company from buying components from US companies without the government’s approval. The enormity of the decision soon became clear when Google cancelled Huawei’s Android licence, and chipmakers Intel, Qualcomm, Broadcom and Xilinx suspended shipments to the Chinese company.