Telenor, Norway’s largely state-owned telecoms firm, finally announced its choice for building out its 5G network in its home market, and it’s not China’s controversial technology giant Huawei. In choosing Sweden’s Ericsson instead, Telenor has clearly paid attention not only to security concerns but political as well.
Huawei, which now ranks as the world’s largest technology company, landed right in the middle of what’s been a politically charged trade conflict between the US and China. It seemed settled on Friday, with the announcement of a new trade deal between the two, but Huawei has been all but blacklisted by US President Donald Trump and his administration. The US launched a boycott of Huawei and pressured its allies, not least in Europe, to do the same.
Norway didn’t go along with a boycott, but found itself also caught between its loyalty to the US (“Norway’s most important ally,” according to politicians on both the right and left) and its more recent political need to placate China after years of a diplomatic freeze. The Norwegian government has since been criticized for being too soft on China, as it refrains from supporting pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong and speaking out against Chinese leaders’ various human rights abuses. Prime Minister Erna Solberg and her government partners have been accused of placing salmon sales and other exports to China above principle.
There had thus been concerns that Telenor, which evolved from the state’s old telephone utility, would cave in to pressure from the Chinese in order to avoid reprisals. The Norwegian government still owns 54 percent of the stock in Telenor, but government minister Nikolai Astrup of the Solberg’s Conservative Party insisted as late as September that Norwegian authorities would not interfere in Telenor’s business decisions.
‘Extensive security evaluation’
Telenor only briefly mentioned Huawei in its press release about its completion of “5G vendor selection for Norway” that was issued Friday morning (external link to Telenor’s website). It did, however, claim that its criteria for selecting a vendor included “technical quality, ability to innovate and modernize the network, commercial terms and conditions.” Ericsson apparently won on all counts, as it did when Telia Norge also chose it over Huawei earlier this fall.
Telenor’s chief executive Sigve Brekke also mentioned that his company had “carried out an extensive security evaluation,” and that based on a “comprehensive and holistic evaluation, we have decided to introduce a new partner for this important technology shift in Norway.”
Brekke and his colleagues thus seem to also have paid attention to warnings about Huawei from Norway’s domestic police intelligence agency PST, which also has warned that China poses one the greatest security threats to Norway. Chinese officials quickly and vigorously objected, but concerns have raged for years that Huawei, as a Chinese company, could be compelled to turn over information from the 5G network to Chinese officials. Huawei founder and leader Ren Zhengei also vigorously denied that in an interview with Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), stressing that Norway had no reason to fear Huawei.
Some Huawei cooperation to continue
It ultimately lost its bid for build out the 5G network that Telenor itself claims “will be the one technology that will transform our society the most in the next decade.” Telenor estimated that the actual build-out will take as long as five years, though, and that it will continue to work with Huawei on maintaining Norway’s existing 4G network during the build-out period. Telenor will also allow Huawei to “upgrade to 5G coverage in selected areas of Norway,” to ensure the “most optimal user experience” for Norwegian customers.
Telenor has already launched 5G pilot projects in the western town of Elverum and is in the process of building 5G in Trondheim. Tests are underway in 10 locations in Norway as well as “selected areas” in Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Thailand and Malaysia.