The 5G dilemma in Spain

The pandemic of covid-19 may be a unique opportunity to relaunch the 5G. In recent months, the Government and various business tribunals have repeated as a mantra that the project of Scanning the Spanish economy will be key to getting out of crisis caused by the coronavirus. And although the so-called fourth industrial revolution goes through this technology, the country is faced with the dilemma of guaranteeing a deployment that does not compromise its security.

A revolution. That is what is expected of 5G, a technology that will multiply the network connection by 10, it will skyrocket the speed of data transfers and reduce waiting time, thus opening the door to fields such as robotic, the artificial intelligence, the cloud service or the hyperconnection of everyday objects, what is known as the Internet of Things. In addition to creating new worlds, 5G will also redefine the current one, promoting the automation of sectors such as healthcare, transport or industry. That you can perform surgical operations, manufacturing processes or control a vehicle from a distance will no longer be science fiction.

The development of 5G is as crucial as it is complex. In recent years the Chinese tech giant Huawei It has emerged as the market leader, being the most advanced company and the only one capable of developing an end-to-end connection, that is, of creating the network infrastructure and all its components. European suppliers like Ericsson and Nokia 5G antenna installations dominate, but Huawei has been establishing its position in Spain for years as a provider of the core of 5G networks (where data is stored) of Telefónica or 30% of those of Vodafone. Also, leads mobile sales since 2019.

“Huawei has already deployed the core of 3G and 4G, so we depend a lot on them,” he explains. Andrea G. Rodríguez, analyst and member of the European Cybersecurity Forum. “Giving up Huawei would be a very powerful investment and now the political agenda is dominated by covid-19.” However, his dominance has been put in check by a greater struggle.

Technological struggle

Since the end of 2019, U.S have accused the Chinese tech giant of creating breached network infrastructures to enable espionage of hackers at the service of Beijing. Although no evidence has been found to substantiate Washington’s suspicions, the Trump administration challenged Huawei in its territory and has pressured its partners to do the same.

The accusations and threats from the US respond to a technological struggle with China for taking over the leadership of 5G, a key weapon to determine the economic and geopolitical war that both powers have been waging for years. Huawei is the main manufacturer in this sector, standing out on a podium that is still a long way from US companies. In Europe, the Swedish Ericsson and the Finnish Nokia have an advanced position in the development of 5G, but they are not at the Chinese level either.

After hesitating, the UK ended up following traditional Allied guidelines, but Spain has ignored the pressure. Thus, Madrid has chosen to allow the Chinese technology company to operate in its territory as long as it meets “the maximum conditions of security, access to data, autonomy and privacy.” September 3 Pedro Sanchez La Moncloa received the director of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China, Yang Jiechi, from whom he asked the commitment of Chinese suppliers in the deployment of this new network. He CNI, Spanish intelligence, has validated as safe some of Huawei’s products.

Chinese dependency?

Spain has made a strong commitment to lead the deployment of 5G networks and services. And it is that, according to the European 5G ObservatoryUp to June, Spain had launched 39 pilot tests in its territory, being the second most active country, only behind 56 in the United Kingdom. In addition, it is one of the 12 EU countries that have drawn up a roadmap for its deployment and one of those with the highest mileage of optical fiber. “It is very well located and that can generate an economic impact of tens of trillions of euros,” she said. Maria Teresa Arcos, general director of telecommunications and planning, at the 34th Meeting of the Digital Economy and Telecommunications.

Spain is also one of the 14 countries that already include 5G in their commercial service. In June 2019 Vodafone launched the new generation network, giving the green light to the war for the ignition between operators. Early this september Telefónica launched its offer promising 75% coverage for this year and since then, Orange and Yoigo have joined that race.

However, its networks are based on the technology of 5G providers such as Huawei, which has shares of more than 30% in the networks of operators such as Vodafone. “The 5G network in Spain is going to be the best in Europe,” he said last year Ren Zhengfei, President of the company. Although this is also repeated in other European companies, the US complaints against the Chinese giant have posed a threat to this deployment. Telefónica assured that it would reduce the use of Huawei technology, but for now the Chinese company continues to fully manage the core or ‘core’ of its network, the most sensitive area. “Spain will not delay 5G, but at a strategic level that can be expensive,” says Rodríguez, who in addition to security risks points to diplomatic problems with allies such as the US.

European petition

Even so, increasingly, Spanish telecommunications follow the guidelines recommended by the European Union. Although it did not find evidence of that spying threat, Brussels has asked member states to apply the so-called toolbox, a series of principles among which is the diversification of providers to prevent 5G from becoming a potential security risk and agree on a “common approach” before April 2021 to roll out 5G.

Although it is requested not to depend solely on Huawei and to build that infrastructure with European technology such as Ericsson or Nokia, Rodríguez remarks that the European ‘toolbox’ does not give a clear manual to follow, nor does it specify which providers are safe, a decision that rests with the member states. Thus, Telefónica Spain depends on Huawei while its German subsidiary has ruled out the use of Chinese technology. A disparity of criteria that can open the door to new problems. “There is no strategic line,” he laments. “It is impossible to imagine what Spain will be like in 2030”.


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