Huawei faces an uncertain 5G future in Germany

Chinese network equipment vendors are coming under even more pressure in Europe as governments continue to take steps to reduce operator dependence on Huawei and ZTE for 5G networks.

In recent days, Germany has apparently signaled that it, too, intends to impose rules on the use of equipment from so-called high-risk vendors. Reports by German media say the Interior Ministry wants to severely restrict the use of components from Huawei and ZTE in 5G networks, despite opposition from the operators.

Politico also said it has seen the strategy paper drafted by the German government. Plans under discussion are said to include a ban on the use of 5G core technology from Huawei or ZTE from January 1, 2026.

Furthermore, the use of Chinese technology in the radio access network (RAN) is also likely to be affected, with reports saying that the three German operators will have until October 2026 to ensure that no more than 25% of the RAN is managed by either vendor.

To be sure, Germany has been seen as a laggard compared to other European countries when it comes to reducing its reliance on China-based vendors. Strand Consult, a Danish company that carries out telecom analysis and market research, has been examining the involvement of Chinese vendors in Europe’s 4G and 5G markets for several years. It calculated that 57% of Germany’s 4G RAN sites used Huawei’s technology, and estimated the vendor’s share of installed 5G equipment at a similar level.

It’s fair to say that this has been a particularly fraught issue at government level, with concerns about the potential cost of replacing Huawei components and a potential trade response from China.

However, some policy makers, also under pressure from the European Commission to implement the 5G security toolbox introduced in 2020 in an effort to mitigate security risks in networks, appear determined to push through new rules in the interests of national security. As reported by Politico, a big driver is to “prevent a second Nordstream case,” when Germany became reliant on Russian gas.

Some steps have already been taken. For instance, the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) has gained additional authority following the signing into law of the IT Security Act 2.0. Specifically with regard to mobile networks, the Act contains a regulation on prohibiting the use of certain critical components to protect public order or security in Germany.

Germany’s Interior Minister Nancy Faeser has also made it clear that the German government no longer wants national telcos to rely on Chinese 5G equipment, and indicated that it would not be deterred by the cost of removing components deemed to be a security risk.

“The risks have been known for a long time. Our security authorities have repeatedly warned against one-sided dependencies,” Faeser said in a recent interview with German newspaper Handelsblatt.

Neither China nor Germany’s operators are thrilled

As for Germany’s three operators, they have not been slow to voice their concerns about the government’s proposed new rules.

According to Reuters, Deutsche Telekom said the 2026 deadline is unrealistic, while Telefónica Deutschland indicated it would consider seeking damages from the German government as well as legal action if retrospective changes to its network were required. Vodafone Germany does not appear to have commented publicly on the matter.

The three operators would also have to find an alternative vendor, with Ericsson and Nokia the obvious candidates. Open RAN technology could enable them to use components from multiple suppliers, but there are still many concerns about the maturity of this technology.

China has also waded in. In an emailed statement to Reuters, the Chinese embassy in Berlin said it would “not stand by idly” if the German government “really decides to move in this direction without proving that Chinese products pose a security threat to Germany.”

The Interior Ministry is expected to present its approach to cabinet next week.