Elisa CEO hits out at ministry Huawei tech ban draft

Elisa Estonia CEO Sami Seppänen,
Elisa Estonia CEO Sami Seppänen, Source: Elisa

CEO of telecoms provider Elisa Estonia Sami Seppänen has hit out at a Ministry of Economic Affairs and communications draft regulation which would restrict non-EU telecoms tech in Estonia's 5G network, including those from Huawei.

The bill is a political move and is based on false assumptions about the security risks Huawei presents, he says, noting that practically all telecoms tech manufacturers have factories in China or use Chinese-made components.

The transition period is also far too short, Seppänen says, and could cost up to €500 million, including damages claims from telecoms firms affected by the ban, and would lead to reliability issues as well as potentially higher costs to consumers.

Banning Huawei tech should not be in place until around 2030, he added.

"If this regulation is robust and abrupt … then the impact will be very negative for customers, operators, the state and the digital society. And this is only negative. There will be no winners," Seppänen said.

No real risk from Chinese tech

Seppänen also says that he does not believe Chinese manufacturers' tech will see a full ban due to security issues, adding that no "backdoors" have been identified in Huawai equipment so far, adding that any engineer familiar with the tech would laugh at the suggestion there were, and that uninformed people had been making the claims.

The tech is essentially the same with all makers, regardless of their country of origin, he added.

"It makes no difference whether tech comes from Finland, Sweden, China or America, they are all similar and built to the same standard in exactly the same way. These devices all guard each other. Today We have all the mainframes from Nokia and Ericsson today. And none of the networks we have - in part from China -operate in isolation, but are controlled by central processing units. If something happens in the wireless network, those central devices will know about it immediately."

Chinese tech not much cheaper today

He also questioned the idea that Chinese tech is cheaper than European or U.S. devices nowadays saying the Huawei, Ericcson, Cisco and Nokia devices Elisa runs all cost around the same, though Huawei devices consume less electricity.

With all the major telecoms firms having factories in China or using components of Chinese origin, it is hard to ascertain what exactly was being banned, he said.

Seppänen pointed to the example of his home country, Finland, which has a lot of Huwaei tech running on its Elisa network and where unproven claims and rumors did not hold water.

Pressing issue in post-COVID-19 world

Nonetheless, the decision is clearly political, he said, but could be carried out in a more reasonable and gradual way for all concerned – not just his own company – in order to ensure better service and prices to consumers.

A transition period of at least 10 years (rather than the three to five years touted) should be in place, he added.

The issue is even more pressing in the post-coronavirus world, Seppänen added, with more and more people working remotely.

Seppänen also said that if the shorter period of transition goes ahead, Elisa will challenge it.

The Riigikogu passed the Electronic Communications Act Amendment Act, which allows the government to regulate by regulation which devices may be used in the Estonian communications network, in the interests of national security, in mid May.

The economic affairs ministry's draft is not particularly detailed, ERR's online Estonian news reports, but the main thrust is a clearer control of telecoms equipment made outside the EU.

In essence, this could mean that Huawei technology, for example, could not be used to build Estonian 5G networks. 

The entry into force of the restrictions is a precondition for moving forward with the 5G frequency licensing competition as things stand.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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