5G networking rapidly developing across Lithuania: controls tightened, politicians’ eyes turn to Huawei

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Huawei Scanpix nuotr.

With 5G connectivity being developed around the country, the government looks at its regulation. The ruling bloc has proposed to judge the new technology’s implementation by way of national security criteria and prohibit access to state importance objects for unreliable suppliers. It is also suggested that existing equipment should be replaced and manufacturers such as Huawei are also under the magnifying glass, Vilmantas Venckūnas wrote in tv3.lt.

The chairman of the Seimas National Security and Defence Committee (NSGK) Laurynas Kasčiūnas and Minister of National Defence Arvydas Anušauskas organised a press conference on Monday regarding the safe development of 5G mobile connectivity in Lithuania.

Seeking to eliminate unsafe suppliers

According to K. Kasčiūnas, wide-band radio frequency use is strategically important for the development of 5G connectivity in Lithuania.

“It is namely the question of competitions and auctions for these radio frequencies and their regulation that lies at the centre of our attention,” the member of Seimas said.

The NSGK chairman reminded that the government programme sets out to achieve independence of unreliable technology suppliers within the year, primarily in implementing 5G connectivity.

According to him, the international context is also favourable for protecting Lithuania from unreliable tech vendors. For example, in 2020, the European Union approved a collection of measures pertaining to 5G connectivity development.

“There is an impulse from the European Union. The US-Lithuanian declaration over safe 5G connectivity signed last year should also be highlighted. You are probably well aware that secure 5G connectivity, independent of unreliable vendors and manufacturers, is one of the main security and foreign policy priorities for the USA. This has not changed with the emergence of a new US president and his administration,” L. Kasčiūnas said during the press conference.

He also noted that the recent cybersecurity report speaks of how unsafe technologies could be exploited for cyber-attacks.

“The goal is to take a serious step so that in strategic projects, Lithuania would act based on transatlantic criteria in implementing 5G connectivity and unreliable manufacturers and suppliers would be eliminated from these projects in Lithuania,” L. Kasčiūnas stated.

According to him, the current legal regulations do not establish that the Communications Regulatory Authority of the Republic of Lithuania (RRT) should refer to the Strategic Object Protection Commission so as to evaluate contracts and tenders on whether they are in line with national security criteria.

L. Kasčiūnas noted that national security criteria are currently not applied to either the equipment itself or to those maintaining it.

“National security criteria compliance must be established and individual auctions and tenders must be evaluated on this basis,” the NSGK chairman said.

Accepting only EU and NATO suppliers

“We are talking about a future, which is also about to reach Lithuania. 5G connectivity is the future we will all come face to face with. The most important aspect is that legislation would be created already now so as to be clear and in line with national security interests.

The aim is for unreliable manufacturers or vendors to be unable to participate in implementing electronic connectivity operations in Lithuania, particularly in relation to 5G connectivity,” Minister of National Defence A. Anušauskas spoke.

According to him, while implementing the long term strategy, the aim is for objects of importance to national security to make use of equipment, goods and services supplied solely from reliable sources.

“It is a crucial matter because, if we do not establish certain limits in our legislation, our public procurement system will continue functioning as usual – seeking the most affordable supplier and the trend of less than reliable suppliers always offering the cheapest and most accessible equipment and this being completely fine as per our laws. However, it is not like that,” the minister said.

According to A. Anušauskas, there are plans to establish legislative guidelines for how the use of 5G connectivity should adhere to national security interests. Also, it is planned to charge the Communications Regulatory Authority of the Republic of Lithuania to refer to the Commission for Coordination of Protection of Objects of Importance to Ensuring National Security for evaluations. The commission was granted the possibility to evaluate electronic connectivity operations compliance with national security.

If non-compliance is found with national security interests, the company offering unsafe equipment will lose the right to participate in state tenders and auctions.

“What is a reliable manufacturer or vendor? It has been defined that those registered in the EU, NATO and our other alliances will be compliant with those criteria,” A. Anušauskas stated.

Old, unreliable equipment to be replaced by late 2025

The minister said he understands that some suppliers might have already entered Lithuania. However, if the proposed legislation goes through, the unreliable 5G equipment will have to be replaced by December 31, 2025 – otherwise, the state will not allocate the frequency needed to provide 5G connectivity.

According to L. Kasčiūnas, politicians‘ attention has converged onto 5G connectivity, but he notes that 5G connectivity also ties into other types of technologies, including 3G and 4G. According to him, while developing these networks, it is also likely that unreliable vendors were used. Thus, this equipment will also have to be replaced by the end of 2025.

“Information technologies and telecommunications are a strategic sector of the economy. And, without a doubt, we would like for it to develop in line with transatlantic and European integration criteria. This is the purpose of these amendments,” L. Kasčiūnas added.

Huawei – compliant?

According to L. Kasčiūnas, the review would be performed at multiple levels. Firstly, there would be a review of the legal entity winning the 5G connectivity implementation tender. Not only their place of registration would be reviewed, but also the ownership of the controlling share package. Also, there would be a review of the equipment planned for use.

“It could be that the same legal entity will be compliant with transatlantic criteria, but the equipment they make use of might not,” the politician said.

The final criterion is that equipment maintenance subjects will also have to be compliant with national security criteria.

However, A. Anušauskas was unable to answer whether, for example, Huawei will be held to be an unreliable vendor because the evaluation will be performed by a commission, not individual politicians.

“We are aware of the geopolitical context, we can express our opinion, but this would be limited to being an opinion. In this case, a commission will evaluate based on all criteria and will make a ruling,” A. Anušauskas said.

“On the other hand, we can probably all agree that this company might struggle to comply with the criteria we are proposing,” L. Kasčiūnas noted.

In February, the RRT stated that it is planning to launch the 5G frequency auction “in the near future.” The implementation of 5G connectivity is complicated in Lithuania by negotiations over frequencies on the state border with Russia – while the RRT has already reached a deal on transitioning television broadcast frequencies out of the 700 MHz band, Russia still refuses to free up the 3.5 GHz band, which it uses for military purposes.

Often, frequencies in this range are needed to ensure effective coverage in more densely inhabited areas, primarily – the major cities.

Prior to launching the auction, the Ministry of National Defence must approve and legislatively establish a number of decisions on cybersecurity.

The 5G connectivity auction was also stalled due to discussions over the state critical connectivity network and the sales deal between Bitė and the state-owned Telecentras’ business Mezon.

In November last year, some areas of major cities in Lithuania saw the introduction of 5G connectivity trial implementation by the company Telia.

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