KPN Rules Out Huawei for 5G Core

Dutch national operator will use a 'Western' supplier for the 'sensitive' 5G core platform.

April 26, 2019

4 Min Read
KPN Rules Out Huawei for 5G Core

Dutch incumbent operator KPN has ruled out using Huawei Technologies products in its 5G core network by announcing it will select next-generation core platform technology from a "Western" vendor, citing security as the main driver for the decision.

In an announcement issued Friday morning, the operator noted:

  • "For the modernization of its networks, KPN takes into account the evolving assessment on the protection of vital infrastructure and the influence this may have on future Dutch policy. In this context KPN has decided to further tighten its security policy for its fixed and mobile network suppliers. As regards the modernization of the mobile network towards 5G, KPN will renew both the mobile core network which from a security point of view is more sensitive, and the radio antenna network… KPN plans to select a Western vendor for the construction of the new mobile core network for 5G."

This now effectively leaves Ericsson and Nokia as the vendors of choice for KPN's 5G core platform.

The decision adds KPN to the growing number of operators in various parts of the world that, either as a result of government rulings or by their own volition, will no longer consider Huawei or its fellow Chinese vendor ZTE as potential suppliers for some parts of their next generation communications networks because of security concerns.

But Huawei isn't being spurned totally by KPN: The operator noted also that for the "modernization" of its radio access network (RAN), it has "signed a preliminary agreement to start preparations with Huawei, a world leader in radio and antenna technology."

There's a caveat, though, as KPN noted this agreement can be "adjusted or reversed to align it with future Dutch government policy." It added that its supplier strategy takes into account "the evolving assessment on the protection of vital infrastructure. KPN is continuously in dialogue on this topic with relevant stakeholders, including the government."

In response to KPN's announcement, a Huawei spokesperson noted in an email to Light Reading: "We appreciate KPN's trust and are honored by their decision to partner with us for the mobile radio access network modernisation. We are committed to support KPN in their ambition to maintain and strengthen their lead in the global telecoms industry. In general, Huawei believes that excluding parties based on geographical origin does not provide a higher level of security. Cyber security can be improved by establishing standards that apply to all parties in the sector. Today, the IT supply chain is highly globalised. Cyber security must therefore be addressed jointly at a global level and suppliers must not be treated differently based on the country of origin."

KPN's decision mirrors that of BT in the UK, which has opted for Huawei as an option in its 5G RAN rollout but not in its mobile core, edge computing or backbone transport upgrades. That approach appears set to get the blessing of the UK government, if recent leaked information proves to be accurate.

The Dutch operator also stressed that it has adopted a multi-vendor strategy, suggesting that even without the current sensitivities around the use of Chinese technology in "intelligent" parts of the network, it would not opt to use a single supplier for its core and access network elements. KPN noted that, in the "fixed domain," it has "recently announced it will work together with network supplier Nokia."

Why this matters
Huawei is under intense scrutiny by governments, security agencies, network operators and large enterprises around the world following countless accusations, most notable from US politicians and agencies, that it is linked to the Chinese government and is a cybersecurity threat, accusations that the Chinese vendor emphatically denies.

Decisions such as the one announced today by KPN provide further ammunition to Huawei's critics and detractors, as it will be perceived as confirmation that the Dutch operator regards Huawei as a security threat.

While this decision alone is unlikely to have any material impact on Huawei's financials -- there is no reason to believe, even, that Huawei would have been in contention for the 5G core deal at KPN under any circumstances, given its role in the RAN -- it does nothing to lift the cloud of suspicion that hangs over the Chinese company.

For more on this topic:

— Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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