Germany gives ZTE's 5G kit the all-clear

Germany appears to be staying true to its word when it comes to judging Chinese telecoms equipment on a case-by-case basis.

Nick Wood

February 8, 2023

3 Min Read
German flag woman happy at Berlin Brandenburg Gate

Germany appears to be staying true to its word when it comes to judging Chinese telecoms equipment on a case-by-case basis.

ZTE on Tuesday said its 5G new radio (NR) gNodeB product has been approved under the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI)’s NESAS (network equipment security assurance scheme) certification programme.

ZTE said it is the first 5G NR product to obtain this particular rubber stamp, and demonstrates the company has complied fully with all process requirements and security specifications set out by BSI’s certification process.

“The accomplishment of this certification demonstrates to the fullest extent that ZTE’s product security governance and 5G NR product have complied with the stringent security requirements of Germany,” said ZTE, in a statement.

“Moving forward, ZTE will maintain the attitude of openness and transparency, abide by the laws and regulations where business happens, and adopt and develop the best security practices in the industry,” it continued. “The company will always take the initiatives to obtain authoritative security certifications, carry out third-party independent security tests, and continue providing customers with secure and trustworthy products and services.”

This sounds a little bit rich coming from the company that paid more than $1 billion a few years ago to settle charges of violating trade sanctions on Iran and North Korea. On the other hand, the BSI wouldn’t just certify any old products.

Indeed, legislation enacted in 2020 gives the German government the power to ban telco vendors that make false declarations, refuse security audits, or fail to promptly divulge and address any security vulnerabilities in their products. In December, Reuters reported on a strategy paper drawn up by Germany’s Economy Ministry that recommends closer scrutiny of components that come from authoritarian states. The advice applies to telco and IT equipment, and products pertaining to transport, water and food supply.

However, while these restrictions might make it harder for Huawei to do business in Germany, the government maintains that decisions on whether to permit certain companies to operate in Germany will continue to be taken on a case-by-case basis.

ZTE seems to be a case in point, and now all eyes will be on Huawei – the poster child for the anti-Chinese-tech campaign – to see if it too meets the BSI’s threshold for certification.

This calm and reasoned approach puts Germany well and truly out of step with the US, which is pursuing increasingly punitive measures against Chinese tech firms, singling out Huawei for special treatment.

Last week, reports alleged that the Biden administration is close to imposing a total ban on US tech exports to Huawei. As things stand, certain companies qualify for licences permitting them to ship components for use in Huawei’s products, giving them a window of time in which to wind up their relationship with the Chinese kit maker and find alternative customers. According to these reports though, the US has stopped issuing these licences.

In addition, towards the end of last year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) made changes to its Secure Equipment Act that make products produced by Huawei, ZTE, Hytera Communications, Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology, and Dahua Technology ineligible for its certification programme. This effectively shuts the door to these companies because without an FCC seal of approval, a company cannot legally import and sell electronic goods.

And all this goes on despite the fact – as highlighted by Microsoft in its most recent Digital Defence Report (PDF) – that rather than target telco networks, state-backed cyber attackers tend to focus their efforts on breaching IT companies and exploiting their privileged access to downstream clients in government and critical infrastructure sectors.

It’s almost as if the espionage angle is just a convenient cover for a good old fashioned trade war.


Get the latest news straight to your inbox. Register for the newsletter here.

About the Author(s)

Nick Wood

Nick is a freelancer who has covered the global telecoms industry for more than 15 years. Areas of expertise include operator strategies; M&As; and emerging technologies, among others. As a freelancer, Nick has contributed news and features for many well-known industry publications. Before that, he wrote daily news and regular features as deputy editor of Total Telecom. He has a first-class honours degree in journalism from the University of Westminster.

Get the latest news straight to your inbox.
Register for the newsletter here.

You May Also Like