* Debates rage on in Europe on use of Huawei equipment
* French telcos ask for clear guidance from government
* 5G deployment could be further delayed
By Mathieu Rosemain
PARIS, Dec 18 (Reuters) - Some fears surrounding Huawei Technologies are unfounded, the chief executive of France’s leading telecoms operator Orange said on Wednesday, as the concerns threaten to delay the roll-out of 5G.
The United States has said that gear provided by Huawei, the world’s biggest telecoms equipment maker, contains ‘back doors’ that would enable China to spy on other countries, and has been pressing allies to block Huawei’s technology being used for fifth generation mobile networks, or 5G.
The Chinese group, which denies the allegations, is now at risk of losing ground against rivals Ericsson and Nokia in key European markets like Germany and France, where political debates rage on the suitability of deploying the next mobile networks with Huawei equipment.
“This myth that (amounts to saying): I’ve got a China-made antenna, so it must have a microphone that allows all my conservations to be listened to by the Chinese communist party is complete nonsense,” Orange’s boss Stéphane Richard said as he was testifying in front of French lawmakers.
“It hasn’t been established anywhere.”
Richard’s comments come a day after France’s telecoms regulator Arcep formally launched the procedure for assigning 5G frequency licences to Orange and local rivals Altice Europe’s SFR, Bouygues Telecom and Iliad, in which the authority said the payments for some of the 5G spectrum could staggered over 15 years.
Orange does not use Huawei equipment in France but does so in other key markets such as Spain, Poland and Africa.
The sale of France’s 5G spectrum, which will be made at a floor price of 2.17 billion euros ($2.39 billion), will take a few months, with a final distribution of the frequencies in Spring, several months after the initial schedule.
The roll-out could be impacted by the uncertainty surrounding the use of Huawei equipment in the country, especially for SFR and Bouygues Telecom, the two biggest users of the Chinese group’s equipment in France.
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 guarantees needed to be made on the issue.
“We solemnly ask you to postpone the launch of tenders for 5G frequencies until this situation regarding equipment manufacturers... has been clarified,” the FFT president, Arthur Dreyfuss, said on Monday.
For interactive graphic on 5G and security risks, click here. tmsnrt.rs/32tVdMI ($1 = 0.9073 euros) (Reporting by Mathieu Rosemain; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)