France to defy US in using Huawei equipment in 5G network, say sources
Paris — France will authorise the use of some of Huawei’s equipment in the rollout of its 5G network, two sources close to the matter told Reuters, despite US calls to exclude the Chinese telecom giant from the West’s next-generation communications.
The French cybersecurity agency, ANSSI, is due to tell telecom operators which equipment they are allowed to use for the deployment of their 5G network in France, but has not made public any decision.
The two sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said ANSSI had decided to approve the use of Huawei gear, but for what they described as noncore parts of the network, as these pose less important security risks.
“They don’t want to ban Huawei, but the principle is: ‘Get them out of the core mobile network’,” one of the two sources said.
A spokesperson for ANSSI declined to comment.
Core mobile networks carry higher surveillance risks because they incorporate more sophisticated software programmes that process sensitive information such as customers’ personal data.
French authorities’ decision over Huawei’s equipment is crucial for two of the country’s four telecom operators, Bouygues Telecom and Altice Europe’s SFR, as about half of their mobile network is made by the Chinese group.
State-controlled Orange has already chosen Huawei’s European rivals Nokia and Ericsson, which US operators have favoured over Huawei.
Up to now, sources close to the French telecom industry have said they fear Huawei will be barred in practice even if no formal ban is announced.
By granting partial authorisation to Huawei, France would follow in Britain’s footsteps, as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson granted Huawei a limited role in the country's 5G network.
Neighbouring Germany is also struggling to reach consensus on the way forward. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s governing conservatives back tougher rules on foreign vendors but have stopped short of an outright ban on Huawei.
France is likely to follow instructions given by EU industry chief Thierry Breton, who said in interviews that telecom operators should not select “risky vendors” for strategic sites such as capital cities, military bases and nuclear plants, a separate telecom industry source said.
Without citing Shenzhen-based Huawei, Breton has said a “risky vendor” was a company that heavily relies on a foreign state or a state that could compel it to disclose clients’ data.
ANSSI was initially due to give the first results of the screening of the 5G telecom gear about a month ago.
The cybersecurity agency’s decision was delayed because it asked operators additional questions in December, the same telecom source said.
But it also has had intense exchanges with its overseeing authority, France’s prime minister office, as well as its British and German peers, to find a common approach towards Huawei, one of the two sources close to the matter said.
The Chinese group said in February that it planned to build its first European manufacturing plant in France as it seeks to ease concerns stoked by US charges that Beijing could use its equipment for spying — which it denies.