European providers to field bids from mobile network tech suppliers
This year, the much-hyped rollout of the fifth generation of cellular networks is set to hit Europe, and it promises to revolutionize the speed and efficiency of mobile technology.
European network providers are poised to field bids from suppliers of 5G network equipment, and historically such upgrades have meant a swathe of lucrative contracts for Huawei, the world's largest supplier of mobile network equipment.
But the Chinese company faces its most uncertain auction season yet, after a United States-led boycott of Chinese vendors disrupted the global telecommunications landscape.
Nations including the US, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand have effectively barred Huawei from participating in domestic 5G network tenders.
On Wednesday, it emerged that the European Union may increase its scrutiny of Chinese telecommunications companies following the actions of its allies.
"A number of like-minded countries are increasingly concerned about China's behavior in this sphere," an unnamed Western diplomat told the Financial Times. "EU countries, including Spain, Italy, and Finland, held 5G auctions in 2018, with a clutch of others scheduled for 2019. The sales can raise billions of euros for government. We are urging everyone to avoid making any hasty moves they might regret later."
In December, Czech security officials warned domestic network providers against using Huawei hardware.
The UK has not followed the US in barring Huawei or its Chinese competitor ZTE, however several British security officials have voiced concern that Chinese participation in the UK's 5G rollout could pose a threat to national security.
Last week, Gavin Williamson, the UK's defense secretary, said he had deep concerns about Huawei providing equipment for the 5G network in Britain.
In early December, Alex Younger, the head of the UK's Secret Intelligence Service, which is also known as MI6, also said the government should question Huawei's participation.
On Friday, Wu Qian, China's Ministry of National Defense spokesman strongly rebuked the comments, saying "anxiety and confusion" had led to a series of "groundless allegations".
Wu said British authorities had exhibited "deep-rooted pride and prejudice" when questioning Huawei's involvement in tenders.
In a New Year message to employees, Huawei rotating chairman Guo Ping lamented the "incredibly unfair treatment" the company had received from foreign governments.
"We must not be discouraged by malicious incidents or temporary setbacks, and must remain determined to achieve global leadership," Guo said.
The incidents Guo referred to are likely to include the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Canada at the request of US law enforcement officials.
Guo also posited that any nation that excludes Huawei hardware will struggle to keep up in the race to deploy 5G.
"For 5G markets that choose to not work with Huawei-they will be like an NBA game without star players," he said.
Guo said the company will continue undeterred, despite being left out in the cold by several nations. He said Huawei managed to secure 26 5G contracts worldwide in 2018 and posted a 21 percent increase in revenue, to $109 billion.
As European 5G auctions near, some providers have already shunned Huawei.
Last month, network provider Orange confirmed it will not consider Huawei 5G bids in France.
British operator BT has also confirmed it will not consider bids from Huawei, though the company still remains active in Britain's 5G market, having conducted technology trials with both Vodafone and Three last year.
In Germany, Huawei has worked with major network provider Deutsche Telekom on 5G trials in Berlin since early 2018.
Members of the German interior and foreign ministries have reportedly urged the government to reconsider allowing Huawei to participate in 5G auctions expected early this year.
In an effort to allay security concerns, Huawei has agreed to open an information security lab in Germany that will enable source code reviews.
A similar center was established in Britain in 2010 to mitigate any perceived risks to critical national infrastructure. The Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre is monitored by a government oversight board that includes officials from the UK National Cyber Security Center.
In July, the oversight board said it could provide "only limited assurance" that all risks to national security from Huawei's involvement in UK networks have been sufficiently mitigated.
Last month, Huawei agreed to commit $2 billion to improve its mobile and internet network systems in the UK, following a meeting with security officials, according to media reports.
Concerns have arisen that other large telecommunications companies would struggle to fill the void in Huawei's absence.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, executives at a major British wireless carrier told the Wall Street Journal that banning Huawei from tenders could delay 5G roll out in the UK by nine months, which would impact the greater economy.
The executives said that Huawei is capable of delivering hardware nearly a year before European competitors Nokia and Ericsson.