US authorities have threatened to share less intelligence with Germany following its recent decision not to impose a blanket ban on controversial Chinese equipment vendor Huawei, according to mainstream press reports.
US Ambassador Richard Grenell is said to have written to Germany's government to warn it could lose access to valuable US intelligence unless it prevents Huawei and other Chinese equipment vendors from selling network equipment and products for use in Germany's forthcoming 5G networks, reports CNBC and the Wall Street Journal.
The warning comes at a tense time in relations between Europe and the US amid concern that equipment from Huawei could include "backdoors" to facilitate Chinese spying or cyber attacks on other countries.
With backing from some European operators and regulatory figures, Huawei has rejected the US accusations and called for a new security regime based on GDPR -- a set of European rules about data protection and privacy -- that would test equipment from all vendors.
During a presentation in Brussels last week, Huawei executives suggested that equipment from other vendors was just as vulnerable as Huawei's gear because of third-party components used by all network vendors. They also continued to deny that Huawei shares information with China's government and said Ren Zhengfei, the company's founder, has indicated he would rather close the business than collude with Chinese authorities.
The letter from Grenell was sent not long after Germany was reported to have said it would not directly exclude any specific 5G manufacturer but instead seek to tighten up security requirements to guard against "untrustworthy manufacturers."
Last week, the Bundesnetzagentur, Germany's telecom regulator, published a statement setting out plans for new security safeguards, including additional testing of vendors active in the German market.
"Security requirements apply to all network operators and service providers, irrespective of the technology they deploy," said Jochen Homann, the president of the Bundesnetzagentur. "All networks, not just individual standards like 5G, are included."
Among other things, the Bundesnetzagentur has urged operators to avoid any "monocultures" by using network and system components from various manufacturers.
The UK government, which is conducting its own supply chain review, is thought to be considering rules that would prevent an operator from using Huawei in more than 50% of its network.
Last week, senior executives from Vodafone, one of the UK's mobile network operators, urged authorities not to impose a blanket ban on Huawei, saying this would cost "hundreds of millions" and "significantly" hold up the country's deployment of next-generation 5G technology.
Grenell's letter may set alarm bells ringing in the UK, which under the "Five Eyes" partnership shares far more intelligence with the US than Germany does.
Another concern for the UK is whether a lenient approach to Huawei becomes a barrier to a future post-Brexit trade deal with the US. The UK is due to leave the European Union at the end of this month and may be desperate to sign new trade agreements in the event of a "no deal" Brexit.
Plans for a Europe-wide security regime are at an early stage and proposals have already hit obstacles.
Ericsson CEO Börje Ekholm recently rejected the GSM Association's calls for post-development 5G testing as "insufficient" and said it would hinder innovation because of the way software is continuously deployed in networks these days.
Scott Petty, Vodafone UK's chief technology officer, has also drawn attention to the difficulty of setting up test centers where all vendors would be happy to operate.
"It is tricky to do because you have direct access to source code and it is hard to see how one center would test four different vendors and for vendors to be confident that source code wasn't available to everyone else," he said during a media breakfast briefing last week. "Source code is the crown jewel for vendors and they will be incredibly nervous about sharing that."
- Vodafone UK Frets Over Huawei Swap-Out Costs, Urges Testing of All Vendors
- Huawei Calls for GDPR-Like Security Regime, Denies Spying (Again)
- Ericsson CEO Slams 5G Test Plans as 'Tax Burden,' Economic Threat
- US Won't Work With Countries That Use Huawei, Pompeo Warns
- Ban Huawei in UK, Urges 'Influential' Think Tank
— Iain Morris, International Editor, Light Reading