Portugal effectively bans Chinese operators from 5G telecoms networks

Ban excludes “companies based outside EU/USA/NATO/OECD countries”

Portugal has become the latest Western nation to effectively block Chinese tech companies from supplying equipment for its fifth generation (5G) phone network.

The news follows the decision by the country’s cybersecurity council – dependent on the Council of Ministers – to ban any companies based outside the European Union, the United States and countries making up NATO and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

As reports in Portugal concede: “This represents a turn-about in Portuguese cybersecurity policies and will be directed at China’s (tech giant) Huawei which has already been banned from the 5G networks of the United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

“Up till now, Portugal had resisted pressure from the north American government to exclude technology in this sector”, explains Correio da Manhã.

“The decision, trailed by Jornal Económico and to be applied by the national communications authority ANACOM, is based on security evaluations undertaken at national and European level.

“The document, dated May 23, talks about the outline of a plan to restrict the use of equipment considered “high risk”, and is based on a report that identifies and characterises the main risks associated with the use of this equipment, but which is classified as “reserved”, says the paper.

Contacted by CM, Huawei “revealed that it had no prior knowledge of this report, and is ‘gathering more information with the competent authorities’.

The company, that has invested billions of euros in Portugal (CM calculates €6.8 billion) over the last 20 years in sectors including energy, water, insurance and banking, stresses that it has “worked with Portuguese operators to develop communications networks and offer high quality services that serve millions of people”.

But this is a decision that has taken years to ‘clinch’. The United States began its pressure on Portugal began during the Trump years (specifically 2019, when then president Trump accused Huawei and smaller operator ZTE of using mobile networks for the purposes of espionage). At the time, government leaders appeared to show a degree of resistance, although the country’s leading operators (Altice, NOS, and Vodafone) all pledged not to use Huawei equipment in 5G core networks.

Wider reports in the international media refer to Portugal’s cybersecurity council actually having pin-pointed “high risk” as “suppliers or providers that are headquartered in a country where the government exercises control, interference or pressure on its activities in third countries”.

As Reuters puts it “without mentioning China or any Chinese suppliers by name”, the description leaves very little in the way of doubt – particularly coming as it does in the wake of the ‘illegal Chinese police stations’ controversy.

Reuters describes “technology rivalry in Europe” as likely to elevate Swedish tech giant Ericsson, and Japan’s Nokia to “a supplier duopoly”.

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