Börje Ekholm, CEO of Swedish kit vendor Ericsson, has spoken out against Sweden’s decision to ban Chinese vendors from being used in the country’s 5G networks.
Ekholm expressed his counter-intuitive position during an interview with the FT. His main problem seems to be with Sweden’s decision to deviate from the EU toolbox, which recommends member states take measures to mitigate risk to their 5G networks rather than banning vendors entirely. “I do think that framework is a good one,” Ekholm told the FT. “This is their own interpretation of the toolbox.”
Spoken like the proper collectivist Swedes are presumed to be, but that instinct doesn’t seem to apply to supranational bodies. It should also be noted that the EU doesn’t seem to have updated its toolbox since the start of this year, so it doesn’t take account of the additional security concerns that caused many European countries to harden their stance on Chinese network vendors in the middle of the year.
“For Ericsson and Sweden, we’re built on free trade,” said Ekholm. “We’re built on the opportunity to trade freely… From my perspective it is important that we have open markets and free competition.” That’s a good point and the precedent set by unilaterally banning companies from certain countries is a troubling one. It’s also legally weak, as indicated by the Swedish decision to review the decision following a challenge by Huawei.
Ekholm concluded by saying all the right things about competition and the importance of Europe not falling behind on 5G, but we suspect his words were meant mainly for Chinese consumption. Ericsson still has considerable interests in the Chinese market and a tit-for-tat ban on it by the Chinese government would be very damaging.
So, while Ekholm’s points about due process and competition are well made, this is also a pragmatic move to placate vengeful Chinese politicians. Huawei has done a good job of painting many European bans as resulting from US diplomatic pressure and it will be interesting to see what position a new administration will have on the matter.