Just ten EU countries have banned or restricted telecom suppliers deemed to be high risk from their 5G network infrastructure, figures from the European Commission show.
Almost all member states have put in place a regulatory framework to restrict Chinese providers such as Huawei and ZTE, but only a handful, such as Sweden and Latvia, have actually used them, according to an update from a commission spokesperson issued today (12 February).
The figures released by the EU executive to Euronews show there's been little improvement since a previous update last summer, with big players such as Germany merely proposing that telecom operators remove all critical components in their 5G core networks by 2026.
In 2018, Huawei and its competitor ZTE faced a global backlash when governments in Japan, the US and the EU excluded the manufacturers from public tenders and from rolling out telecoms networks, given allegations of spying and fears of Chinese state connections.
Huawei, which operates in more than 170 countries, has always denied any ties with China’s government, and said it’s a private company fully owned by its employees.
ZTE also said it “welcomes external, independent security verification” and has expressed its willingness to work with regulators to ensure secure products and infrastructure.
In 2020, the commission presented a 5G toolbox, allowing national governments to mitigate major cybersecurity risks by diversifying suppliers and excluding vendors at high risk, including Huawei and ZTE — and last June the EU executive urged member states to implement those norms "without delay".
Given the implications for the EU's internal market and vital parts of society and the economy, the security of telecommunication networks remained a “major priority”, the commission said at the time. But it's also warned that Europe is rolling out the next generation networks too slowly, potentially hampering new tech such as artificial intelligence.
Telecoms lobby group ETNO has said the EU needs significant extra investment to achieve its goal of full 5G and full gigabit coverage by the end of this decade.
Next week, the commission is due to publish its long-awaited Digital Networks Act white paper to address potential problems with infrastructure funding, though it's not clear if the plan will make 5G security measures mandatory.