PARIS (Reuters) - Orange (ORAN.PA), France’s biggest telecoms company, said it had chosen Nokia (NOKIA.HE) and Ericsson (ERICb.ST) to deploy its 5G network in mainland France, as China’s Huawei Technologies faces intense political scrutiny in Europe.
The former monopoly’s decision is likely to please U.S. authorities, which have been seeking for months to convince European allies to ban Huawei from telecoms networks on concerns that the Chinese firm could be used to steal Western secrets — assertions it strongly denies.
Orange, considered a strategic asset by the French government, uses Finland’s Nokia and Sweden’s Ericsson for its current mobile networks, on which part of the next mobile technology will be built.
“For Orange France, it was the easiest solution,” a source close to the operator said, adding that it followed negotiations and experiments using Nokia, Ericsson and Huawei products.
Huawei was not immediately available for comment.
A recent decree aimed at screening all telecoms equipment to prevent espionage did not offer enough clarity for France’s telecoms lobby FFT, which insisted that guarantees needed to be made on the issue.
The general fear in the French telecoms industry is that the authorities actually want to ban Huawei but will not say it publicly.
In an interview in Les Echos on Thursday, FFT’s head Arthur Dreyfuss said the industry would ask for compensation in the event that Huawei’s equipment ends up being de facto excluded from the deployment of 5G in Europe.
Comments by the European Union industry chief Thierry Breton in an interview with Le Monde on Wednesday supported this interpretation, as he noted that China had laws allowing the state to have access to all kinds of data.
“Telecoms operators mustn’t select risky suppliers, which could allow a state, for example, to take control of strategic sites such as capital cities, areas of intense military activity or nuclear power plants,” Breton said.
France’s cybersecurity agency ANSSI is set to issue its first decisions regarding equipment it has screened in the coming weeks.
Earlier this week, the EU followed Britain’s example in allowing members to decide what part Huawei can play in its 5G telecoms networks and resisting pressure from Washington for an outright ban.
EU countries can either restrict or exclude high-risk 5G vendors such as Huawei from core parts of their telecoms networks, according to the new guidelines, which seek to address the cybersecurity risks to the bloc’s 28 countries at a national and EU level.
Reporting by Mathieu Rosemain, Benoit Van Overstraeten and Sudip Kar-Gupta; editing by David Evans