The head of the French cybersecurity agency ANSSI says there would not be a total ban on using equipment from Chinese technology giant Huawei in the roll-out of France’s 5G telecommunications network, but that it was urging French firms to avoid using the company.
“What I can say is that there won’t be a total ban,” Guillaume Poupard told Les Echos newspaper in an interview. “[But] for operators that are not currently using Huawei, we are [encouraging] them not to go for it.”
The United States government has urged its allies to exclude the Chinese firm from the West’s next-generation communications networks, saying Beijing could use it for spying. Huawei has denied the charges.
The company was added to the US Department of Commerce’s “entity list” a year ago due to national security concerns, amid accusations from Washington that it violated US sanctions on Iran and can spy on customers.
Sources told Reuters in March that France would not ban Huawei but would seek to keep it out of the core mobile network, which carries higher surveillance risks because it processes sensitive information such as customers’ personal data.
France’s decision over Huawei’s equipment is crucial for two of the country’s four telecoms operators, Bouygues Telecom and SFR, as about half of their current mobile network is made by the Chinese group.
“For those that are already using Huawei, we are delivering authorisations for durations that vary between three and eight years,” Poupard said in the interview.
State-controlled Orange has already chosen Huawei’s European rivals Nokia and Ericsson.
Poupard said that from next week, operators that have not received an explicit authorisation to use Huawei equipment for the 5G network can consider a non-response after the legal deadline as a rejection of their requests.
Poupard said the choice was made to protect French independence, and not as an act of hostility towards China.
“This is not Huawei bashing or anti-Chinese racism,” Poupard said. “All we’re saying is that the risk is not the same with European suppliers as with non-Europeans.”
Meanwhile, the United Kingdom’s health minister said on Sunday that Huawei has clear conditions to meet if it wants to continue to be allowed involvement in the development of the country’s 5G telecommunications infrastructure, after a report that the firm would be banned from the project.
Officials are drawing up proposals to stop installing Huawei Technologies equipment in as little as six months, the Sunday Telegraph newspaper reported, in a reversal of a decision earlier this year.
Asked about the report, health minister Matt Hancock declined to comment on it specifically but said the initial recommendation had always been conditional.
“I wouldn’t comment on leaks of that kind. What I can say is that when we came out with an interim report on this earlier in the year, there are a number of conditions that needed to be met,” he said.
“I’m sure that the National Security Council will look at those conditions, and make the right decision on this, to make sure that we have both a very strong telecoms infrastructure … but also that it is secure.”
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who in January allowed Huawei a limited role in the UK’s 5G network, has faced intense pressure from the US and some British lawmakers to ban the Chinese telecommunications equipment maker on security grounds.
On Tuesday he toughened his rhetoric on Huawei, warning China he would protect critical infrastructure from “hostile state vendors”.
Ministers have also cited US sanctions as being likely to have an impact on the viability of Huawei as a 5G provider.
The Sunday Telegraph report said that the National Cyber Security Centre had changed its recommendations on Huawei as the sanctions would force the company to use untrusted technology.