Can the Chinese Huawei be banned in Switzerland as in the United States?

In Europe, suspicions of Chinese spying through telecommunications equipment have already led the two main Chinese manufacturers, Huawei and ZTE, to reduce their operations according to a Politico investigation. So Bruno asks us:

“What is the status of Chinese telecommunications equipment in Switzerland?”

The response from Fabrice Delaye, journalist. Dear Bruno, thank you for your question. With regard to Switzerland, the question essentially arises for Huawei, whose equipment is used and sometimes marketed by the three main operators: Swisscom, Sunrise and Salt.

Huawei in Switzerland. While the first collaborations between Huawei and Swisscom date back to 2008 and Sunrise to 2012, the Chinese company moved to Switzerland in 2018. At the time, Doris Leuthard, head of the Federal Office of Communication, met Eric Xu, the Huawei CEO in Shenzhen and mentioned “massive investments” in Lausanne and Geneva.

Huawei currently employs around 400 people in Switzerland in Dübendorf, Liebefeld and Saint-Sulpice.

Good relationships. Since 2018, Huawei has been on a charm offensive in Switzerland.

  • She has a research collaboration with EPFL.

  • The company hired Miss Switzerland 2006, Christa Rigozzi, as an ambassador.

  • It has also sponsored Swiss-Ski and the national alpine ski team since December 2019 under a three-year contract.

According to Manuel Küffer, spokesman for Huawei Switzerland:

“We are preparing to renew the partnership with Swiss-Ski very soon.”

Judging by their websites, Swiss carriers also have the best relationships with Huawei.

On the Swisscom website, for example, the word is given to Felix Frei, CEO of Hallenstadion, about the WiFi installation of the most important event website in the country:

“Swisscom and Huawei are also innovation partners for us. They help us develop new service delivery models.”

In 2019, Sunrise and Huawei established a “Joint Innovation Center” in Zurich.

Telecommunications expert blogger Xavier Studer notes, however:

“Huawei reduced its communication efforts in Switzerland.”

The infrastructure. Huawei makes phones but is mostly known for its cheap but quality networking gear.

As far as Swisscom is concerned, Huawei is mainly active in equipment for the fixed network.

According to Alicia Richon, spokesperson for Swisscom:

“In the B2B context, we offer our customers the possibility to choose between different network solutions and different integration models. For systems integration solutions, customers have in principle the possibility to participate in choosing the technology provider according to their needs. Some customers choose Huawei. For standard B2B solutions, we rely on a multi-vendor and qualitative strategy (best-of-breed). For the mentioned services, Huawei intervenes only in the WAN environment.

At Salt, spokesperson Viola Lebel explains:

“Salt is pursuing a two-vendor strategy for its network, namely Nokia and, as of January 2020, Huawei. This two-vendor strategy allows us to react more quickly to potential constraints and ensure a robust network development plan in the face of the rapid development of 5G technology.”

It specifies:

“Huawei only supplies Salt with radio access technology, meaning the network components that sit at the edge of the network and allow users to access our network. All core components of the network – i.e. components that ensure network security – are not provided by Huawei and are managed internally by Salt.”

At Sunrise, Huawei’s technologies are mainly used for the 5G mobile network.

Smartphones. What is the situation for Huawei in the stores of the three main Swiss operators?

At Swisscom, Alicia Richon explains:

“Currently, we do not have Huawei branded smartphones for sale in our assortment, and we have had them for about a year now.”

On the website of the Sunrise online store, there are no Huawei branded devices either.

In Salt, Viola Lebel responds:

“Huawei products have been available in our Salt Stores since 2014. We also have products from the Oppo and Xiaomi brands in our assortment. However, Salt currently does not offer Huawei cell phones.”

American influence. Could the decision to ban Chinese manufacturers in the US change the attitude of Swiss operators towards Huawei?

According to Xavier Studer:

“The American decision raises the question of backdoors (backdoors in spy equipment). Swiss operators have certainly weighed these risks.”

Alicia Richon of Swisscom observes:

“We are closely monitoring the current situation and are in close contact with the Swiss authorities and other telecom operators in Europe to this end. We adapt our strategy and protective measures to our risk assessments.”

She adds:

“Regardless of the political situation, we have had a multi-vendor strategy for years. In mobile telephony, including 5G, Swisscom works closely with Ericsson, in the cloud for business customers with Dell and EMC, and for fixed network services with Huawei, Nokia, Cisco and Juniper.”

Alicia Richon clarifies:

“The security of our customers, our networks and our IT is a priority. Our processes and architectures are designed to minimize potential risk, regardless of manufacturer and country of origin, and to protect our networks from eavesdropping or sabotage. We also perform regular security audits. We also exchange information with other European suppliers and the Swiss authorities on security-related topics and take countermeasures in case of new threats.”

To Sunrise, spokesman Manuel Guenin makes the following comment:

“Sunrise agrees with the assessment made thus far by federal authorities. We are of the opinion that Huawei should not be excluded from the implementation of 5G infrastructure in our country, especially since the matter concerns the trade war between the United States and China.

He adds:

“The Federal Council declares that it is aware of the current situation. The latter emphasizes that Swiss operators are responsible for the security of their networks, regardless of the origin of the technology used, and therefore does not provide for any exclusions. We share this opinion. In addition, Swiss telecommunications law obliges the country’s operators to protect their networks.

On Salt, Viola Lebel says:

“We consider the security risk related to Huawei to be low and currently do not anticipate any adaptation in this regard.”

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