France played 5G card better than US but Huawei is the winner

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Updated: April 3, 2019 6:05:34 PM

The country’s parliament starts to debate Wednesday a bill aimed at tightening security around its 5G networks after an earlier version was rejected in February by senators for the government’s failure to fully consult them.

France, 5G card, US, Huawei Technologies Co, 5G networks, 5G plans, Emmanuel Macron, Xi Jinping, GermanyTo increase oversight, the parliament’s defense committee is proposing an amendment for so-called PMR, or “private mobile radio,” to be regulated in the same way as public 5G networks, something Germany is looking into.

If France is trying to keep Huawei Technologies Co. out of its next-generation telecommunications networks, it’s doing it a lot more subtly than the U.S.

The country’s parliament starts to debate Wednesday a bill aimed at tightening security around its 5G networks after an earlier version was rejected in February by senators for the government’s failure to fully consult them. The bill doesn’t name Huawei, but instead provides a framework for protecting networks by subjecting equipment to tests that may be tantamount to suppliers handing over industrial secrets to be eligible to bid for contracts.

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“We don’t target any gear maker; we target equipment,” said Thomas Gassilloud, a lawmaker from President Emmanuel Macron’s party, Republic on The Move, who sits on the defense committee. He noted, however, that the bill will reflect France’s attempts to ensure the new networks are secure and its push for more reciprocal access to the Chinese market.

“We are not naive, and the bill will leave room for the prime minister’s national security agency to make the wisest choices taking into account both the network’s security and our place in global competition,” he said.

The bill shows that France isn’t succumbing to pressure from the U.S. for an outright ban of Huawei. President Donald Trump’s administration has been seeking to persuade countries across the world to exclude Huawei from 5G networks, pointing to China’s National Intelligence Law that requires all its organizations and citizens to assist authorities with access to information, which according to the U.S. makes the company a tool for espionage.

France — a large number of whose companies do business in China — has gone to great lengths to not be seen as targeting Huawei. During Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit to France late last month, Macron and his advisers avoided any public discussion of Huawei or cybersecurity. Instead, Macron said Europe is trying to build “a coherent strategy” with China.

“We give ourselves the means to be sovereign, like China has always done, with no discrimination on foreign investments, which are welcome in France like in Europe,” he said. The comments were the latest demonstration of Europe de-escalating what’s been a tense few months of U.S.-led anti-China tech sentiment, centering on Huawei.

For all that, though, the new French bill will require Huawei and other gear makers to divulge a lot more information on their equipment than in the past.

In addition to the safeguards in place for critical parts of the country’s telecoms networks, the bill envisages a vetting procedure that broadens the list of components that must be fully reviewed by government cyber experts. The core of networks and towers are already on that list, but now electronic components and software in the towers and equipment linked to the heart of the network will also be scrutinized, according to a copy of the bill.

“With 4G, Huawei could afford not to be in the protected heart of networks and still do business, but with 5G a much greater share of the equipment will require national security oversight,” Gassilloud said. “Not being eligible for it would make it structurally impossible to have a reasonable market share.”

The application of the rules — the choice of equipment depending on their location, the level of vetting demanded for some of the gear, the review of software used to protect the data — will remain classified and under the oversight of the national security agency SGDSN and the cyber security agency ANSSI.

To increase oversight, the parliament’s defense committee is proposing an amendment for so-called PMR, or “private mobile radio,” to be regulated in the same way as public 5G networks, something Germany is looking into. The PMR will be used for data-intensive and smaller-cell applications, like in urban areas or by large industries that want to build their own networks and bypass licensed mobile operators.

Ericsson AB, Nokia Oyj, Cisco Systems Inc. and Huawei are all competing to build Europe’s future network.

“We absolutely have to adapt to the needs of each country as they move forward,” with their 5G plans, Huawei’s deputy director general for France, Minggang Zhang, said in an interview. The Chinese company “wants the process to be open and transparent,” he said.

In spite of U.S. pressure, nations accounting for more than 40 percent of the world’s gross domestic product are either embracing Huawei or appear unlikely to restrict the Chinese vendor — the world’s biggest telecoms gear maker.

It has been chosen to equip Italy’s and Monaco’s networks. France’s four telecom operators have repeatedly called on Macron’s government to leave the market open to all providers. Orange Chief Financial Officer Ramon Fernandez said barring Huawei in 5G equipment would result in a duopoly between the two European providers.

Telecom operators are anxiously awaiting the bill as they race toward their 2020 target for rolling out 5G networks.

“It’s of the utmost importance for us to have –as quickly as possible– visibility on the way the government envisions the process to authorize the pieces of telecom gear,” said Stephanie Brun, a spokeswoman for the French Telecom Federation. “We need to avoid any delay, especially if we have to amend part of the work that’s been carried out during the pilot test period or if we need to change our current networks on which future 5G networks will be based.”

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