As Rome props up its national digital security, it’s making sure private companies don’t get ahead of themselves.
On Friday morning the Italian government banned major telecoms company Fastweb (controlled by Swisscom) from installing Huawei technology in their core 5G network infrastructure.
The ban is temporary, intended to last until Fastweb clarifies its development strategy. Nonetheless, this is the first time Rome used its “golden power” – lawful intervention in private companies’ dealings for the sake of national interest – for the sole purpose of targeting Huawei directly.
The move bears testimony to the growing opposition that Italy, like many other European countries, are mounting towards the State-owned Chinese tech behemoth over security concerns.
Italian authorities reportedly suspect that a trove of sensitive data was accessed through Fastweb’s Chinese-installed components and sought to prevent the company from investing in the potentially unsafe manufacturer for the time being.
This also plays in the hands of the US, who has been engaging in a “tech Cold War” with China for the past few years, a front of the wider geopolitical confrontation between the two superpowers. The US has been pressuring allies to do away with Huawei and ZTE, another Chinese tech giant, for fears of espionage.
Beijing opposes this narrative and guarantees the safety of its tech, blaming the US of peddling fear to favour its own suppliers. However, Chinese law allows the State to access any information from Chinese companies operating abroad, leaving the door open for unwanted information leaks elsewhere in the world.
On Tuesday, Sweden became the second European country (after the UK) to ban Huawei and ZTE altogether from its upcoming 5G networks, pledging to purge older networks from Chinese equipment by 2025. The Swedish security service called Huawei “one of the biggest threats” to their national security.
The matter is also competitive. Sweden is home to Ericsson, one of Europe’s leading telecoms suppliers together with Nokia, which are being adopted as the safer alternative to Chinese tech by a growing number of European states due to shared security standards.
Italian companies are choosing to prioritise their own suppliers, too. The biggest Italian telecoms company, TIM, has just signed a €70 million contract with five Italian suppliers to reconvert old copper networks to optical fibre.
Back in August, TIM was the first company who chose to exclude Huawei from its 5G construction tender in Italy and Brazil.
It’s also negotiating indirectly with the State as senior partner in Italy’s future single broadband network, meant to bridge Italy’s digital divide and boost the country’s economic development. Fastweb, too, will have a minority share in the future newco, dubbed AccessCo.